Beale Street hosted its annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Saturday. That just happened to be right before the opening tipoff for the Memphis vs. Houston basketball game at FedExForum. The Tigers and Cougars were meeting in the American Athletic Conference semi-final game to earn a spot in the championship game. The Cougars have secured a spot in the NCAA. The Tigers need to win to go.
But there was no luck of the Irish for the Tigers as the Cougars held off a late Memphis rally to win, 61-58 – and advance to the championship game.
Memphis was playing their third game in three days and were looking to make it to NCAA tournament. Jeremiah Martin hit a three-pointer to give Memphis the early lead. Houston went on a 16-3 run to force the Tigers to call a time out.
The Tigers did manage to stop the Houston run, but could not cut into their lead and trailed 36-26 at the half. The Tigers only were shooting 22.6 percent from the floor in the first half. The Cougars were controlling the boards as well. Houston had a 27-17 advance in the first half including nine offensive rebounds.
Martin had 10 points in the first half and Davenport scored 5 points. The Cougars had no one in double digits, but all nine players that played scored. Houston also shot 42.9 percent from the field in the first half.
Memphis quickly went on a 5-0 run to start the second half in the first minute. Houston erased the run in less than a minute with a 5-0 run of their own. Houston would control the second half and pushed to a 13-point lead with eight minutes to go in the game.
Houston went to a ball control offense which allowed the Tigers to make some defensive stops. Memphis cut the lead down to 5, 61-56 but too many empty trips left the Tigers unable to cut deeper into the Cougars lead.
Memphis had two opportunities to tie the game in the last seconds of the game, but three-point attempts by Martin and Harris did not fall. Memphis did not shoot over 25 percent from the floor for most of the game.
The Tigers were able to stay in the game by making 22 of 26 free throws. Houston on the other hand allow Memphis to stay in the game by making only 14 of 27 free throws.
Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson did not want to take credit for the Tigers shooting woes and blamed it on playing three games in three days. Coach Hardaway said his team just missed some wide- open shots and did not want to blame the consecutive games played.
On the loss to Houston said, “We made too many mistakes on the game plan, we’ve come out on the losing end of it. So especially when you’re playing these type of team, great teams like Houston. So overall, I’m still proud of the guys and you know, for fighting and staying in the game”.
Jeremiah Martin most likely will not get to play in the NCAA tournament. His career is most likely not done, as the Tigers still hope to make the NIT.
“It’s big for us to have him because without him where would we be?” Hardaway said. “He’s done a phenomenal job. I had him off the ball earlier in the year. He didn’t look like himself, and I put him back on the ball and everything went back to normal.”
On the last shot attempt Martin said, “I thought I was going to make it. I really didn’t have a good shooting night. I haven’t shot well this whole tournament. Houston is going to come out and play physical every night, no matter who they play against.”
Alex Lomax connected on a three-pointer in every game of the tournament. On how he can take that confidence on for the rest of the season and onto year Harris said, “I have to keep working this summer in order to keep my confidence. My coaches and teammates have been believing in me lately. I have to shoot the open shots and my mindset is always to play defense, go out there and if the shots come to me, take it with confidence”.
The Tigers were led by Martin with 23 points. The Tigers closed the rebounding gap in the second half and were only out rebounded by 1 48-47. The Tigers connected on only 4 of 23 three-point attempts. The Cougars were led by Corey Davis Jr. with 17 points and he connected on 3 of 8 three-pointers.
The Tigers will await the call from the NIT to see if they will have a home game next week or will have to travel.