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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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Tigers crash-land their NCAA Tournament bubble

Terry Davis

COLUMBUS, Ohio – With 5.5 seconds to play, the University of Memphis Tigers were on the verge of a coveted first-round win in the NCAA Tournament. They just needed to keep the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Owls from scoring on an in-bounds play.

Mission unaccomplished!

The Owls’ Nicholas Boyd found a lane to the basket, leaving the Tigers in need of a desperation heave that they did not get off in time, with the attempt swatted away.

FAU 66, Memphis 65.

Kendric Davis defends against FAU’s Brandon Weatherspoon. (Photo: Terry Davis/The New Tri-State Defender)

“It is a heartbreaker,” said Memphis’ star point guard Kendric Davis. “We worked hard all year to put ourselves in this position. We just didn’t get it done. I had a big turnover. We think about what we could have done, but we just didn’t.”

Making back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances after not making the field in the previous eight seasons, the Tigers were eighth-seeded in the East bracket and had trouble from the beginning with the ninth-seeded Owls, whose home base is Boca Raton, Fla.

University of Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway. (Terry Davis/The New Tri-State Defender)

“It was a crazy game from start to finish,” U of M head coach Penny Hardaway said. “It hurts more to give up a layup for the win. You work your whole year hanging your hat on defense and you need one stop and you can’t get that stop.

“It is not one person’s fault. We put ourselves in position to win the game, but we just didn’t get it done.”

Down by 10 points (25-15) with 8:15 left to play in the first half, the Tigers played their way back into the game and led 35-31 at halftime. Davis, who got off to a slow start, warmed up to score 12 points in the half, connecting from deep with seconds left and allowing the Tigers to extend their lead.

Known as a high-volume three-point shooting team, two of FAU’s first three made shots came from beyond the arc. The Owls finished the half going 4 of 13 on three-pointers. They surrendered four turnovers.

After picking up his fourth foul early in the second half, DeAndre Williams returned sooner than many expected, going the rest of the way without fouling. (Photo: Terry Davis/The New Tri-State Defender)

The second half did not start well for the Tigers. DeAndre Williams, who, along with Davis, was a First-Team American Athletic Conference selection, picked up his fourth personal foul in just over two minutes. He left the game briefly before Hardaway chose to reinsert him.

“I knew he had to play,” said Hardaway. “We were at a point where we were trying to push away from them. With him on the floor, it would help to push away from them. I had the confidence that he would not foul out and go out there and do what he needed to do.”

The Tigers controlled much of the second half. At the 16:55 mark, a technical foul was called on Elijah McCadden and the Owls were within two points after two made free throws. The game was knotted at 43 with 14:53 to go. A Memphis spurt pushed the Tigers up seven (51-44) with 9:55 to play and forced an FAU timeout.

With 5:20 left, Memphis fans were stunned as Davis fell to the floor at Nationwide Arena writhing in pain after taking a jumper and landing awkwardly, aggravating an ankle injury suffered a few games back.

Davis returned to the game with 3:04 left but was noticeably hampered and not as effective the rest of the way. Williams came up big in the final minutes of the game. He scored on a three-point play after being fouled with 1:28 left to give the Tigers the lead.

On how the Tigers let their lead disappear, Hardaway said, “Complacency, we gave up a three, didn’t make shots. We had plenty of opportunities to seal the deal. We got the ball back and should have called timeout. They made every shot they were supposed to have made.”

Kendric Davis led the Tigers onto the court at Nationwide Arena for their first-round matchup with Florida Atlantic University. (Terry Davis/The New Tri-State Defender)

Davis led Memphis with 16 points. Williams had 13 points and 13 rebounds. McCadden and Jaylen Hardaway each had 9 points.

The Owls were led by Giancarlo Rosado with 15 points. Johnell Davis had 12 points and Bryan Greenlee and Alijah Martin each had 10 points. Boyd, who made the winning layup, had eight points (four rebounds, four assists).

So that’s it for Memphis (26-9). They’ll start seeing FAU on a regular basis next season as the Owls join the AAC.

FAU (33-3) on Sunday will face Fairleigh Dickerson, which pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament winning over No. 1-seeded Purdue as the 16th seed. The winner earns a trip to the East Regionals in New York next week.

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