Nic Moore hit a 3-pointer with 6.5 seconds left Wednesday and the SMU Mustangs topped the Cal Golden Bears 67-65 in an NIT quarterfinal at Moody Coliseum in Dallas.
That negated a terrific effort from freshman Jabari Bird, who scored 15 of his 20 points in the second half as the Golden Bears (21-14) battled back from a seven-point deficit. Justin Cobbs had a final shot for Cal, but his potential game-winning 3-pointer bounced off the rim to send the Mustangs (26-9) to Madison Square Garden for just the second time ever. SMU’s only game at the storied arena was in 1950.
It was the Golden Bears who got off to a hot start, opening the game with a 15-6 spurt before the Mustangs battled back, going on a 10-0 run after Cal took a 24-15 lead.
It was SMU that had to come back late. Bird’s jumper with 3:18 left put the Golden Bears up 62-59. Ryan Manuel made the second of two free throws with 2:54 to go and Nick Russell hit a pair from the stripe with 2:11 remaining to tie the game.
Russell’s basket with 38 seconds left put SMU up two, but Cobbs canned a 3-pointer with 18 seconds remaining to put Cal up 65-64 before Moore’s eventual game-winner.
Bird, a highly touted recruit from the Bay Area, missed four games with an ankle injury in late December and early January and struggled to find his groove, averaging just 7.9 points per game on 41.3 percent shooting.
But he gave hope for the future with a strong performance in the NIT. In three games, Bird averaged 16.7 points per game and shot 65.5 percent, including 5-for-10 from 3-point range. He hit 3-of-6 from deep on Wednesday. His 20 points against SMU marked just his second 20-point game of the season, his first since scoring a career-high 24 against Oakland on Nov. 15.
Cobbs added 18 points and seven assists for the Golden Bears and David Kravish had 12 points and eight rebounds.
Markus Kennedy had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Mustangs, Moore added 11 points and Russell dished out four assists.
Cal was 26-for-51 (51 percent) overall, 6-for-18 (33.3 percent) from 3-point range and 7-for-7 at the foul line. SMU was 24-for-54 (44.4 percent), 6-for-17 (35.3 percent) and 13-for-18 (72.2 percent).
Without Richard Solomon, who was hurt in the loss to Colorado in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals, Cal struggled on the glass, getting outrebounded 35-22, including giving up 17 offensive boards to the Mustangs.