Memphis Tigers await AAC Tournament fate after tough road loss to FAU

Tigers await winner of Wichita State and Rice in the AAC Tournament starting Thursday.

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The Memphis Tigers traveled to Boca Raton, Florida, aiming for a season sweep of the Florida Atlantic Owls and to keep alive their chance for a double-bye in the American Athletic Conference tournament next week in Fort Worth. But FAU had a say in the matter and beat Memphis, 92-84.

“Tough game and tough environment,” said Tigers’ Coach Penny Hardaway. “We didn’t match the intensity and energy, and the tougher team won today.”

The Tigers began the half well, led by Nae ’Qwan Tomlin’s early effort, scoring five points and leading by as much as 6 points (20-14) when David Jones hit a three-pointer with 12:24 left. Jahvon Quinerly struggled in the first half, not scoring and contributing to four of the seven turnovers, which the Owls converted into 20 points.

The Owls took their first lead on a putback by Vladislav Goldin (25-24) with 7:04 left in the half and extended it to (41-35) at halftime, thanks to Bryan Greenlee’s buzzer-beating three-pointer.

Jahvon Quinerly looks for an opening in the FAU defense. (Photo: Terry Davis/Tri-State Defender)

In the second half, a 17-7 Owls run widened their lead to (63-50). The Tigers managed to close the gap to six points (83-77) with 1:59 remaining, but couldn’t sustain the momentum. The Owls excelled in second-chance points, capitalizing on 20 in the game and outrebounding the Tigers 41-37.

Hardaway said his team was down after the loss, but expects them to be resilient headed into the AAC Tournament.

“They were disappointed,” Hardaway said. “But there is no quit in this team. They showed that by winning the last four games. (FAU) is a tough place to play. We lost to a team that is really good, on senior day.

Jaykwon Walton sizes up his defender. (Terry Davis/Tri-State Defender)

“We had our opportunities,” he said, “but we let it slip away.”

Goldin led the Owls with 21 points and 12 rebounds, shooting 9 of 12 from the field.

“FAU is a great offensive team, with Goldin in the middle,” Walton said. “We don’t have anyone to match up against him, but we fought hard today.”

For the Owls, Greenlee also had 21 points, hitting 5 of 6 three-pointers. Alijah Martin and Johnell Davis contributed with 16 and 14 points, respectively. The Owls outscored the Tigers 46-22 in the paint.

For Memphis, Tomlin was the standout, scoring 27 points with 7 rebounds. Jones and Walton also contributed with 16 and 10 points, respectively. Quinerly improved in the second half, finishing with 16 points and 4 assists. The Tigers were efficient from beyond the arc, making 16 three-pointers and shooting 52 percent in the second half.

With the regular season behind them, Memphis will likely need to win the AAC Tournament to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Jayden Hardaway said the team is not looking back.

“Regular season is over. We must put the past behind us,” he said. “We’re not strangers to neutral site games. We will be more focused.”

For his part, Coach Penny Hardaway’s message to his team is clear.

“We are going to do what we have always done. The slate is clean. We’re going to play one game at a time,” he said after the game. “Whatever your matchup, win that matchup, get to the next game. You have played a full season. There are no more surprises. You just have to go and have heart and effort.”

The AAC Tournament tips off on Thursday, March 14. Memphis plays at 2 p.m. on Friday, March 15, and will take on the winner of #12 Wichita State and #13 Rice.