HOUSTON — After seeing their double-digit lead cut to four with 4 minutes left, SMU didn't panic because it had been here before and knew how to close things out.
Markus Kennedy scored 17 points, Nic Moore had 15 and the 25th-ranked Mustangs held off Houston 75-69 Thursday night.
Kennedy and Moore combined for 23 points in the second half as the Mustangs (20-5, 11-2 American Athletic Conference) extended their lead to 17 midway through the second half and fought off a furious Houston rally.
"We didn't do a good job of handling their late run," Kennedy said. "After the last TV timeout, we figured some things out. Me and Nic looked at the guys and told them that we have been here before. We have been in tough situations.
"We just got a tough road win last game. We know what it takes to win. That's why there was no let up. We had to just stay focus and keep our mindset right."
Ryan Manuel added 10 points for SMU, which moved into first place in the conference. The Mustangs shot 54 percent from the field, including 58 percent in the second half.
"I think we are very fortunate to come out with a win, but it's a road win against a rival team," SMU coach Larry Brown said.
Jherrod Stiggers scored 17 points, LeRon Barnes added 14 points and 10 rebounds and Devonta Pollard added 13 points for the Cougars (9-14, 1-10), who shot 41 percent from the field and made 11 of 34 (32 percent) 3-pointers.
"We just had unforced errors, but once we settled down and made a couple of our shots Jherrod hit some good threes," Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. "LeRon Barnes might not have been the best player on the floor tonight but I though he was absolutely the toughest player. He's a tough kid and he is a winner. I thought our guys fought."
After the Mustangs stretched the lead back to 13, the Cougars countered with a 12-3 spurt to pull to 68-64 on Pollard's alley-oop dunk with 4 minutes to go.
SMU hit 5 of 6 free throws in the final 2:39, and Moore hit a clutch jumper as time expired on the shot clock with 36 seconds left as the Cougars missed 6 of 8 shots and could get no closer than four.
"We had to make a couple plays," Brown said. "Nic hit a shot with two seconds from out of bounds and Markus hit some key free throws. He hadn't been our best free throw shooter, but he's been working on it."
After Houston cut SMU's lead to five on Danrad Knowles' three-point play with just under 16 minutes left, the Mustangs opened up its largest lead with a 14-2 run. Kennedy led the run with five points and capped it off with a three-point play off a monstrous one-handed fast break dunk to make it 54-37 with 12 minutes left.
Houston used a 12-4 run over the next 3 minutes to claw back to 61-52 on consecutive 3-pointers by L.J. Rose.
SMU led 33-27 behind 50-percent shooting from the floor.
SMU: The Mustangs shot 13 of 24 from the free-throw line. ... The Mustangs outscored Houston 42-22 in points in the paint.
Houston: At halftime, Houston honored the Armed Forces Bowl championship football team that defeated Pittsburgh 35-34. New head football coach Tom Herman addressed the crowd. ... The Cougars turned the ball over 13 times that led to a 15-2 SMU edge in points off turnovers.
BROWN ATTENDS SMITH MEMORIAL
Brown attended the Dean Smith memorial earlier Thursday before flying to Houston for the game. When asked to discuss the memorial, Brown took a deep breath and became slightly emotional.
"Sunday when I found out early in the morning, everyone called me to comment, I wasn't ready to do that," Brown said. "When I started reading all the things that was written and said about him aside from basketball, a side that I don't think a lot of people knew, it was a great feeling to know he touched me, he touched my family, he touched so many people."
Brown played at North Carolina under Smith and served as an assistant with the Tar Heels from 1965-67.
"Going back to today, they had a small memorial, but everywhere in Chapel Hill, there were signs and appreciation from people," Brown said. "My daughter came and saw a dog with a Carolina blanket on it. It was wonderful to be a part of that. He touched my life. I don't think there will be another one like him."
SMU: Hosts Connecticut on Saturday.
Houston: At Central Florida on Sunday.