The Cal men’s basketball team had seen this movie before: Justin Cobbs dribbling up court in the final seconds, with a chance to put the Bears in front.
SMU was in the lead, 64-62. There were 20 seconds, then 19, then 18. In possibly the senior’s final college contest, it was clear he wasn’t about to let anyone else take that final shot. Standing behind the top of the arc, Cobbs rose up and released, leaning slightly forward over the 5-foot-9 Nic Moore. The miracle shot went down. Cobbs’ 3-pointer gave Cal a one-point lead with just 15 seconds left. Those 15 seconds separated the Bears from a trip to New York City — and a spot in the NIT Final Four.
Moore stomped those hopes into the hardwood just seconds later. After an official timeout stopped the clock to confirm Cobbs’ shot came from behind the 3-point line, the Mustangs hurried up the floor and into their offensive set. It didn’t take long for Moore to free himself. Tyrone Wallace, marking Moore, slipped and fell to the ground. Moore scurried out behind the right-wing, caught a pass and fired a wide-open three of his own. It connected, and the Bears’ season ended mere seconds later after a 32-foot Cobbs heave clanked off the rim.
SMU prevailed, 67-65, at Moody Coliseum in Dallas on Wednesday night, eliminating Cal from the NIT.
Despite their heavy underdog status — they were given just a 20 percent chance of victory from KenPom.com — the Bears shot out to an early 13-4 lead, flustering the Mustangs with a 3-2 zone. With his big man depth depleted — Richard Solomon sat with a concussion, and Kameron Rooks was out with a foot injury — head coach Mike Montgomery was forced into a tough spot. He responded creatively, positioning Wallace, Cobbs and Jabari Bird around the perimeter and putting David Kravish and 6-foot-6 Ricky Kreklow down low.
The strategy fulfilled its main duty, helping to hold SMU to just 6-of-17 from downtown. But the interior was inevitably compromised, and Mustangs forward Markus Kennedy took advantage to drag his squad back into the game.
It seemed that any time SMU had a problem, an entry pass to Kennedy was the solution. The sophomore blistered the Bears’ bigs, pouring in an efficient 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting. His burly frame and soft touch demanded attention, allowing the Mustangs to free up their outside shooters. On the final possession of the game, Wallace chose to stay on Kennedy instead of drifting out to Moore on the perimeter. The decision proved fatal, as Moore’s shot closed the book on the careers of Cobbs, Solomon and Jeff Powers and sent Cal back home for the last time in the 2013-14 season.