SMU guard Nic Moore, front, dribbles past East Carolina guard Prince Williams (4) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
LM Otero
February 21, 2016

DALLAS (AP) While clearly biased, SMU coach Larry Brown and teammate Markus Kennedy are shocked every time they hear talk of national player of the year candidates without senior point guard Nic Moore even being mentioned.

''I just kind of laugh,'' Brown said. ''Look at all of the dynamics that have gone into this year, what he's done. He's been as good as any player in the country in my mind.''

Moore had 22 points, including four 3-pointers after halftime when the 21st-ranked Mustangs took control in a 74-63 victory over East Carolina on Sunday. He also had seven assists with some nifty bounce passes, took a charge and altered a few shots when East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo thought his team would have layups.

''He gives them whatever they need every game,'' Lebo said about the reigning American Athletic Conference player of the year who was the preseason pick to win the award again.

SMU (22-4, 10-4) never trailed after an 8-0 run going into the halftime, and took the lead for good when Moore hit consecutive 3s in a 27-second span after that.

East Carolina (10-17, 2-12), which lost its sixth game in a row, was even at 38-all on Michael Zangari's short floater with 17:19 left. That was the sixth and final tie of the game.

Moore made a 3-pointer from the top of the key only 9 seconds after that, then after a Pirates miss hit another 3. When Caleb White hit a 3 for ECU, Moore responded with another 3 - this one from the right wing when he started the ball movement that led to him being left wide open.

''I don't understand how he's not the top candidate for player of the year,'' Kennedy said. ''(Oklahoma guard) Buddy Hield's playing good, but come on, man.''

Mustangs freshman guard Shake Milton, who had 10 points, said when Moore ''gets hot, you just keep feeding him, and every time he puts it up, you think it's going in.''

Kennedy had 19 points and nine rebounds, while Jordan Tolbert had 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Mustangs (22-4, 10-4 American), who have alternated losses and wins in their last eight games since an 18-0 start. Moore, Kennedy and Tolbert are the SMU seniors who play regularly.

Prince Williams had 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting for East Carolina. Kentrell Barkley added 15 points and White had 14.

While Brown's Mustangs are banned because of NCAA sanctions from postseason play, and can't play in the American Athletic Conference tournament, they are still in contention to win the league's regular-season title for the second year in a row.

Temple, the first team to beat SMU this season, went into its game Sunday night at Houston at 10-3 in the league. Cincinnati was 10-5 in the AAC after its win Saturday over UConn, which beat the Mustangs on Thursday night.

''I can't believe we're going to done in two weeks,'' Brown said. ''I don't know if I want to see it end for the seniors, so I'm just sitting here hopeful that the next four games are really ones that they will all remember and appreciate.''

INTO THE HALF

East Carolina led 35-28 when Barkley made a 3-pointer with 4:27 left in the first half, which came after Moore's attempted alley-oop pass was stolen by Zangari and started the break the other way. But Tolbert's dunk started a half-ending 8-0 run on a pass from Kennedy, who had a pair of baskets that sandwiched a bucket by Moore.

BIG BOARDS

SMU finished the game with a 41-17 rebounding advantage. Lebo knew his team was outsized and had to try to keep SMU from making transition baskets. ''We really didn't go to the boards,'' Lebo said.

TIP-INS

East Carolina: The Pirates made 12 of 24 3-pointers. ... East Carolina's last win was 64-61 over Temple on Jan. 27, three days after the Owls handed SMU its first loss of the season. ... Like Brown, Lebo played collegiately at North Carolina for Dean Smith. Lebo also played for Brown with the NBA's San Antonio Spurs during the 1989-90 season.

SMU: Tolbert has his sixth double-double this season, matching the number he had over 91 games at Texas Tech (2011-14) before transferring to SMU for his senior season. ... The Mustangs are 14-1 this season at home, and 76-21 overall since the start of the 2013-14 season.

UP NEXT

East Carolina at Tulane on Wednesday night.

SMU at Memphis on Thursday night.

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