Still, the No. 7 Bearcats surely couldn't have expected their 15-game winning streak to end with such a thud.
Nick Russell had 15 points to go with a couple of big steals and SMU beat Cincinnati 76-55 on Saturday night for its third victory over a Top 25 team in seven games since moving back into renovated Moody Coliseum on campus last month.
"There's not much to say. They beat us in every facet of the game," Cronin said. "We didn't meet the challenge. ... I think we just got rattled, no question about it. We didn't show poise.
Russell had two steals in less than a minute that led to breakaway baskets, with a 3-pointer from Nic Moore in between, to cap an 11-0 run by the Mustangs after Cincinnati (22-3, 11-1 American Athletic Conference) cut the gap to 48-41 midway through the second half.
Cincinnati, with its highest ranking in 10 years, hadn't lost since dropping consecutive games against New Mexico and Xavier in the first half of December. The Bearcats beat SMU 65-57 at home in the AAC opener on New Year's Day.
"Well, for 15 in a row, it's been a great run for us. But at the end of the day, they got the job done and we didn't. Again, it was all about their kids just being more physical than us," Cronin said.
Before getting back into their campus home five weeks ago, SMU (19-5, 8-3) hadn't defeated a ranked opponent anywhere since December 2003. The Mustangs hadn't had multiple wins against Top 25 teams in the same season since 1984-85, the last time SMU appeared in the poll. They reached as high as No. 2 that season.
"If we didn't have a good team, all we'd have is a beautiful building," said Larry Brown, the Hall of Fame coach in his second season at SMU. "I didn't imagine it would be like this this quickly. But I was hopeful that we could get it that people wanted to see our team play and appreciate the fact that we're playing hard and playing the right way."
The sellout crowd in the 7,000-seat building broke into chants of "Larry! Larry! Larry!" several times—from before tipoff until late in the game. While students at one end serenaded Cincinnati players with "Over-rated," students sitting at the end near Brown and the SMU bench yelled out "Under-rated!"
Ben Moore also had 15 points for SMU, while Nic Moore scored 14 and Cannen Cunningham 11.
AAC scoring leader Sean Kilpatrick led Cincinnati with 22 points on 5-of-18 shooting, including 3 for 12 on 3-pointers.
The Bearcats scored six points in a row to make it 48-41, the closest they had been since there were 3 minutes left in the first half, when Titus Rubles hit two free throws after being fouled on a breakaway drive after stealing a pass. They didn't get any closer after Russell made a layup after Markus Kennedy broke through two defenders and passed him the ball.
SMU was back up 59-41 with 8:13 left when Russell had a steal and broke free for a thunderous, one-handed dunk. Nic Moore hit a 3-pointer right before that, after Ben Moore's breakaway layup that came after another steal by Russell.
"When Nick got a steal and they didn't even try to run back with him, I figured it was over," Cunningham said.