Reaching for a term to sum up back-to-back losses, University of Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway settled upon “gut wrenching.”
Coming off a 40-point loss at Tulsa, the Tigers started strong against the SMU Mustangs before fizzling their way to a 74-70 disappointment in front of 17,090 at the FedExForum on Saturday.
“You can’t lose a game at home especially when you have a 12-point lead,” said Hardaway. “These last two games have been gut wrenching.”
The first half played by the Tigers may have been one of their best halves of the season. They committed less than a handful of turnovers and Boogie Ellis broke out of his shooting slump, connecting on two three-pointers. At the break, Memphis led 41 to 32.
“This game is really hard to believe,” Hardaway said. “We went from a team that wasn’t turning the ball over and playing really good defense to a team that started to turn the ball over and playing really bad defense.”
With the Tigers shooting 50 percent from the field and only allowing the Mustangs to shot 30 percent from the floor, SMU stayed in the game on the strength of guard play.
For the Tigers, the second-half began with the Mustangs scoring the first six points and cutting the Memphis lead to 41-39 at the 17:25 mark. Hardaway quickly substituted Ellis and Damion Baugh and D.J. Jeffries connected on a dunk and a three-pointer to stop the Mustangs’ 6-0 run.
When Jeffries hit a mid-range jumper with 13:59 left to play, Memphis had an 11-point cushion (70-59). That, however, would be the last time the Tigers would score. SMU accelerated to the win with a 15-0 run.
SMU took the lead for good (71-70) on Isiaha Mike’s three-pointer with 1:45 left. It was the Mustangs’ first lead since a 2-0 start. Memphis’ second-half regression was associated with the Mustangs’ switch to a zone defense. The Tigers did not attack the zone nor attempt open shots that were available in the middle of the defense.
Asked what could have been done to stop the 15-0 run, Hardaway said, “Getting to the foul line and being aggressive and taking the ball to the basket and getting to the foul line. We are still missing that guy to get that done. We will learn how to get that done.”
Davis’ 20 points paced the Mustangs, Emanuel Bandoumel adding 14. SMU converted on 14 of 34 attempts from three-point range.
The Tigers were led by Jeffries with 18 points. Precious Achiuwa only attempted two shots in the second half and finished with 15 points; Ellis also scored 15 points.
*This was the second game the Tigers played in the Coaches vs. Cancer game. The coaching staff wore the Penny foamposites black-and-white sneakers.
The game had a special meaning Hardaway. Desmond Merriweather, who got Hardaway into coaching, battled cancer before passing away several years.
The Coaches vs. Cancer program is a nationwide collaboration between the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches. The initiative leverages the personal experiences, community leadership and professional excellence of coaches to increase cancer awareness and promote healthy living through year-round awareness efforts.
*Memphis’ next chance to get back on the winning track comes on the road Wednesday (Jan. 29) when the Tigers play the University of Central Florida at 6 p.m. CT. The game will be shown on either ESPN2 or ESPNU.