DALLAS – With a berth to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden on the line, California battled SMU to the final second in a soldout Moody Coliseum Wednesday, but Justin Cobbs’ final jumper didn’t fall and the Mustangs walked away with a hard-fought 67-65 victory over the Golden Bears.
“As disappointed as it is to be one shot away from going to New York, I was really proud of these guys and the effort they put forth,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “We were obviously a little short-handed in some ways. I thought we really competed … I thought we played unselfishly. We shared the ball … guys making shots because they got in a rhythm and felt good.”
Neither Cal nor SMU could take control of a game that featured seven lead changes and four ties. With the score tied at 62, SMU’s Nick Russell sank a lay up to put the Mustangs ahead by two points with just 36 seconds left.
The Bears came back down the court and put the ball in Cobbs’ hands and the senior rose up for a clutch three-pointer that gave Cal a 65-64 advantage with just over 15 seconds remaining.
“I just wanted to make a play,” Cobbs said. “I just felt like trying to go out there and help the team win any way possible. I just thought if I get my legs into the shot and jump over him that I would be able to get a good look.”
After a timeout, the Bears went to a man-to-man defense intending to switch on every screen. Nic Moore, though, drained a three-pointer for a 67-65 Mustang advantage that left 6 seconds on the clock.
Cobbs races up the court and had an open look from three-point range, but the ball hit off the iron as the buzzer sounds, ending Cal’s season with the quarterfinal defeat.
''It felt good actually,'' Cobbs said. ''It just didn't go down.''
SMU (26-9), snubbed by the NCAA tournament after its only three-game losing streak of the season, was seeded No. 1 in its NIT region and advances to the semifinals after three games at home. The Mustangs finished their first season 12-1 at the renovated Moody Coliseum, where the sellout crowd included former President George W. Bush and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
Markus Kennedy led the Mustangs with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Freshman Jabari Bird scored 15 of his 20 points after halftime, when Cal (21-14) had to overcome a seven-point deficit. Cobbs had 18 points and David Kravish 12 for the Bears.
The Mustangs play Tuesday night against Clemson (23-12), the NIT's only non-No. 1 seed to make it to Madison Square Garden.
SMU regained the lead for the first time in more than 8 minutes when Russell, one of two Mustangs seniors, made his reverse layup with 36 seconds left. With the crowd on its feet - jumping up and down while screaming their loudest - Cobbs quieted them briefly when he made his 3-pointer to put the Golden Bears ahead.
Cal shot 51.0 percent from the floor for the night, including 58.3 percent in the second half, against an SMU team that ranked among the top five in the country in field goal percentage defense.
The Bears played without senior foward Richard Solomon for the third straight game, as well as reserve center Kameron Rooks, sidelined with a foot injury. Ricky Kreklow, who broke is nose Monday vs. Arkansas played with a mask before removing it in the second half.