MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)SMU rallied and rallied but kept falling short – until its defense kicked things up another level.
The Mustangs held No. 20 Memphis scoreless over the final six minutes and completed a 74-70 comeback victory Saturday. Kendric Davis led SMU with 20 points and five assists – his 14th straight game with at least five assists – but it was the shooting and defense late that made the difference.
”It was an uphill (battle) the whole game until we took the lead,” SMU coach Tim Jankovich said. ”We were just uphill, uphill.”
The Mustangs (15-4, 5-2 American Athletic Conference) fought their way back from several 11-point deficits only to let the Tigers extend the lead again. The advantage reached 12 points – biggest of the game – with about seven minutes left.
SMU outscored the Tigers 18-2 the rest of the way. Memphis’ only basket came on a dunk from DJ Jeffries with 6:01 remaining. Meanwhile, Isiaha Mike scored eight of his 13 points, including a 3 with 1:51 left that put the Mustangs ahead for good.
”For our guys to dig down again and make another comeback from double digits-down basically, I thought was fantastic,” Jankovich said.
The Tigers were coming off an ”embarrassing” 80-40 loss at Tulsa on Wednesday.
”You don’t make excuses. You’ve got to finish those games,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. ”These last two games have been the worst. … It’s about being there during the good and the bad. And right now, it’s bad.”
Jeffries led Memphis (14-5, 3-3) with 18 points, and Precious Achiuwa had 15 points and nine rebounds. Boogie Ellis, who had been in a shooting slump and not scored a field goal in conference play, finished with 14 points, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range.
The loss was the Tigers’ second in a row and fourth in the last six.
Memphis appeared in control, weathering the Mustangs’ attempts to get back in the game only to fall short. Then the offense fell apart. They missed their final eight shots, and the turnovers – a long-running Memphis problem – accelerated with six in the final seven minutes.
”They went on their little run, and we never stopped their run,” Jeffries said. ”They kept scoring and we started turning the ball over. At the end, time ran out on us.”
SMU: The first half saw the Mustangs, who shoot almost 47% from the field, struggle at 32%, including 5 of 21 from 3-point range. Still, SMU trailed by only nine at the half. But the closing rally, keyed by Mike’s eight points, and free throws by Davis made the difference. The Mustangs ended the game shooting 45.5%.
Memphis: The Tigers, which were trounced in their last game at Tulsa, scored more points at halftime than they had in their whole game against the Golden Hurricane.
Memphis’ No. 20 ranking was already in jeopardy after getting doubled up in Tulsa earlier in the week. A loss at home not only should drop them out of the rankings, but unless things change, it will be a long time – and a lot of wins – for them to be ranked again.
SMU: Plays at Cincinnati on Tuesday.
Memphis: Plays at Central Florida on Wednesday.
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