The Tigers played 40 minutes of basketball in recovery mode Saturday afternoon at FedExForum. Three days after one of the ugliest losses in program history — a 40-point dismantling at Tulsa — the Tigers led SMU for 36:12 of those 40 minutes . . . and lost.
Mustang guard Isiaha Mike connected on two key field goals (one a three-pointer) during a 15-0 scoring run over the game's final six minutes to steal the victory for SMU. The Tigers failed to score a point after a D.J. Jeffries
dunk gave them a 70-59 lead with 6:01 to play. Turnovers on three consecutive possessions contributed to the collapse, and a three-point attempt to tie the game by Precious Achiuwa
— following a steal with 11 seconds left — didn't reach the rim. The Tigers fell to 14-5 with the loss and are now break-even (3-3) in American Athletic Conference play. SMU improved to 15-4 (5-2).
"In the last seven minutes," said Tiger coach Penny Hardaway, "we went from a team that was not turning the ball over and playing pretty good defense to a team that started turning the ball over and playing poor defense. Simple switches . . . we aren't communicating, and gave up threes. It's a tough game we should have won here at home. You cannot lose conference games at home. Especially when you have a 12-point lead with seven minutes to go."
Memphis played a focused, efficient first half, piling up 12 assists (on 15 field goals) and only committing two turnovers to take a 41-32 lead at the break. But the Mustangs came back — twice — in the second half, pulling within point, falling behind again by 12, then finishing on that 15-point surge.
"They made shots," emphasized Hardaway. "Give them credit. The game's never over until the zeroes go up. We usually handle our business with the lead. These last two games have been gut-wrenching. We're not gonna cave in. We're gonna keep working. Hopefully these are lessons learned, and guys will understand. You never know when your turnover might lose the game."
provided a spark off the bench, playing his best game in two months. The freshman from San Diego scored 14 points and hit three of his four attempts from long range, one of them a bank shot from almost 30 feet as the shot-clock expired to give the Tigers a 10-point cushion with just under eight minutes to play. But the Mustangs hit 62 percent of their shots in the second half (15 for 24) after being held to 32 percent (10 for 31) in the first.
"We're a young team," said Ellis. "I feel like we'll be okay, trusting each other and playing for each other. Coach [Hardways] says it all the time, these are self-inflicted wounds. If we focus on the little things, I feel like we'll be okay."
Kendric Davis led SMU with 20 points. Emmanuel Bandoumel added 14 and Mike 13. Jeffries paced the Tigers with 18 points (6 for 11 from the field) and Achiuwa added 15 (7 for 10). The Tigers had the edge in points from the paint (30-24), points off turnovers (20-10), and points from the bench (23-13), but sill dropped their fourth game in the last six played.
When asked about his team's back-to-back struggles, Hardaway said, "I expected it, but it still hurts. I'm such a competitor. These last two games have been the worst." As for solutions, Hardaway emphasized the need to get to the foul line to end a scoring drought, and to communicate, all the time, every game. "Stay in the moment and value every possession."
The Tigers travel to UCF for their next game Wednesday night. They'll then play three straight home games (against UConn, Temple, and USF). A team originally considered among the top 15 in the country must likely win each of its next four just to regain footing in the pecking order for an NCAA tournament bid. "There's a lot of basketball to play," noted Hardaway. Recovery mode continues.