The impact of the stinging setback to Houston and the ending registered on UofM head coach Hardaway as he lingered on the Dickies Arena court in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo: Terry Davis)

FORT WORTH, TEXAS – For the second time in seven days, the end of a Memphis Tigers basketball game against the Houston Cougars felt like a punch to the gut. The latest was a 76-74 loss with huge NCAA Tournament implications and impact.

“It was a tough game. We knew it would be a tough game,” UofM head coach Penny Hardaway said, noting that the American Athletic Conference Tournament (AAC) semi-final game against the No. 7 ranked Houston clearly “got out of hand” in the first half.

“We made some made some adjustments at halftime. We did some good things, but we just (weren’t) able to pull it through.”

Trailing by a bucket after Boogie Ellis’ three-point shot as the clock wound down, Hardaway and the Tigers thought they might have earned a last-gasp chance when a Houston pass sailed out of bounds, but the officials ruled the clock had expired.

Next up for the Tigers is the waiting game to see where and when they will play again. The NCAA Tournament’s selection show is set for 5 p.m.  If the Tigers don’t get a NCAA bid, they most likely will be among the first four out and a replacement team, meaning on standby to step in if a selected team is not able to meet the NCAA’s COVID-19 protocols.

The impact of the stinging setback and the ending registered on Hardaway as he lingered on the Dickies Arena court.

“It is crazy right now,” Hardaway said in his post-game reflection. “It is hard to accept having the game won, knowing what was at stake and not being able to pull it through.”

Memphis had multiple opportunities in the final minute but could not track down the win. During that stretch:

  • Ellis, who carried so much of the scoring load, traveled and turned the ball over.
  • With 46 seconds left, the Tigers missed grabbing the rebound on a Houston three-point attempt.
  • Open looks by Landers Nolley II and Ellis missed the mark as the clock ticked down from the 13-second mark.

The Tigers, who shot a woeful 55.6 percent (15 of 27) from the free-throw line, did not attempt their first until 8:27 left in the first half.

Memphis’ intensity and focus was lacking in that first half. In a stretch right before the break, the Tigers surrendered an easy lay-up and then turned the ball over at half court, yielding another easy layup. They trailed by a dozen points (41-29) as the half ended.

They didn’t quit. Instead, they grounded out a rally that Houston responded to with strong performances by Quenten Grimes (21 points) Marcus Sasser (14 points).

Nolley’s first points for Memphis came with 5:43 left in the game and they gave Memphis a one-point lead (61-60), which Houston soon recaptured. As the teams battled for the lead, Memphis took it (72-71) on a D.J. Jeffries dunk with 1:32 left.  The Cougars responded with a layup from Justin Gorman 20 seconds later.

On not being able to knock Houston out, Hardaway said, “I saw everything unfolding. We just couldn’t stop it. They are a really good team. They kept plugging away.

“I knew we had to knock them out, but we could never get to that point. They are used to winning on that level and we are not.”

NOTES

  • Ellis had his best game as a Tiger in the losing effort, scoring a career-high 27 points and connecting on five of his eight shots from beyond the arc.
  • DeAndre Williams, who finished with 16 points, fouled out with 2:34 left in the game on a call for swinging an elbow when no one was around him. Williams had been called for an apparent fifth foul with a little over six minutes to play. That call along the baseline was overturned upon review.