Facing the 21st-ranked team in the country, the Tigers would have had their hands full with a complete arsenal Thursday night at FedExForum. By the third minute of the second half, though, two starting guards (Markel Crawford and Kedren Johnson) were out of the game for good and a third (Pookie Powell) was not even in the building, nursing an illness on campus.
Despite the emaciated roster, the Tigers found themselves tied (48-48) with SMU with less than ten minutes to play after Calvin Godfrey connected on a jump shot from near the top of the key. But Larry Brown's Mustangs then reeled off a 15-4 run, capped by junior guard Nic Moore's dagger three-pointer at the 2:49 mark to secure the visitors' 23rd win of the season.
Crawford collapsed to the ground after a collision with Mustang forward Yanick Moreira (setting a screen) with just over three minutes to play in the first half. Replays showed Crawford's head made full impact with Moreira's left shoulder. (No foul was called.) Crawford left the court after several minutes of attention for a bloodied mouth.
Then early in the second half — before either team had scored — Johnson was called for a personal foul (his fourth of the game) under the Mustang basket, then received a technical foul for a verbal exchange with an SMU player, which counted as a fifth, disqualifying violation. "[Sterling] Brown had something to say about the way I fouled his teammate," explained Johnson after the game. "He approached me and said something I didn't like, and I reacted the wrong way. The ref heard it and gave me a tech. It's my fault; I take responsibility for it. It's never happened to me before. It was shocking."
"I'm proud of our guys," said Memphis coach Josh Pastner. "We battled. We competed. Obviously, we were down some players. Kedren took that silly [technical] foul, and Markel being out with his jaw [injury]. Having those two guys down, it made it tough in the second half. Nic Moore hit a couple of big shots that broke our backs. We were mixing and matching, trying everything we could. SMU's the best team in the league."
The Tigers were down just two points at halftime (30-28), despite little offense from Austin Nichols (one for eight from the field) and the Mustangs taking 18 free throws to the Tigers' three.
Shaq Goodwin had one of his best performances of the season with 17 points, seven rebounds, and a pair of blocks, helping the U of M outscore the Mustangs in the paint, 32-26. But Nichols never found his touch, missing nine of 11 shots and Avery Woodson wasn't much better (three for 11). In addition to 16 points by Moore, the Mustangs got 11 each from Moreira and Ryan Manuel.
"We needed to come up with big plays in the final stretch," said Goodwin. "We needed to come up with the plays they came up with. That's why they won the game."
"Losing Markel was a huge factor," said Nichols. "He pretty much locked down [Ryan Boatright] of UConn. We were aiming for him to help us out with Nic Moore. That was a huge loss for us. We had to fight through it. We didn't give up; that's a positive. I'm proud of my teammates for not folding."
Nick King came off the bench and scored 14 points for the Tigers, his most since mid-January.
The Tigers fall to 17-11 with the loss, which ended a three-game winning streak. They return to play Saturday night at FedExForum when Tulsa — tied atop the American Athletic Conference with SMU — comes to town. At halftime of the home finale, the 1984-85 Tigers will be honored as part of the 30th anniversary of the team's run to the Final Four.