MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Houston defense stifled Memphis for the bulk of its semifinal game of the American Athletic Conference tournament. But the final seven minutes almost made the Cougars’ effort for naught.
Corey Davis Jr. scored 17 points and No. 11 Houston weathered a late Memphis rally to defeat the Tigers 61-58 in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament on Saturday.
Jeremiah Martin led Memphis with 23 points, most of them from the free throw line, as he made only 5 of 24 shots, including going 1 of 7 from outside the arc. He did make 12 of 14 free throws.
“I thought our defense was outstanding for most of the game,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “Our biggest challenge was keeping Martin off the free throw line. . 12 for 14 was problematic for us.”
Houston, the tournament’s top seed, moves on to Sunday’s championship game against the winner of Saturday’s second semifinal between No. 24 Cincinnati and sixth-seed Wichita State.
From the start, Houston smothered the Memphis offense. Cougar defenders were blocking shots, deflecting passes, cutting off drives and basically gumming up the Tigers offensive flow, leaving them to launch 3-point attempts – unsuccessfully.
By halftime, Memphis was shooting less than 23 percent, including missing 9 of 11 from outside the arc. The Tigers missed 11 of their final 12 shots in the half.
Despite the late rally, the Tigers never got above 25 percent shooting in the game, ending at 23.5 percent. They were 4 of 23 from outside the arc.
Memphis (21-13) was trailing 60-48 When Nate Hinton made a pair of free throws with 7:40 remaining. From there, Memphis crafted a 10-1 run to pull within 61-58 with a minute left. During that stretch, Houston missed 10 straight shots and failed to score for more than four minutes. That included missing five of six free throws down the stretch.
“Most of our wounds were self-inflicted,” Sampson said. “We had some kids who just didn’t play with a lot of confidence for whatever reason. This isn’t rocket science. Sometimes that unguarded 15-footer can be daunting.”
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Sampson later added: “It helps to make free throws.”
Despite the Houston free-throw woes, Martin missed a 3-point attempt with 20 seconds left after Memphis pulled within 61-58 with a minute left when Martin scored inside. On the final Memphis possession, freshman Tyler Harris missed a 3-pointer with six seconds left, then he grabbed the offensive rebound, but his final 3-point attempt was blocked by Fabian White as time expired.
“I thought I was going to make it,” Martin said of his attempt. “(But) I really haven’t shot well this whole tournament.”
Houston: Houston almost let a stellar defensive performance go for naught down the stretch as Memphis made its comeback. The Houston defense was stifling any Memphis offense and thwarting everything Martin tried. In the end, Houston had enough of a lead to hold off Memphis’ final run, although the Tigers had their opportunities.
Memphis: The Tigers, in some circles, were considered a bit of a favorite in the tournament because they lost only twice at home. But both of those were by ranked teams – Tennessee and Cincinnati. Houston, which didn’t play at Memphis during the regular season, made the third as Martin could never get untracked against the Cougar defense
Nate Hinton, who was 5 of 8 from the floor, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range in Houston 84-45 quarterfinal win over UConn, missed five of his six shots and ended with five points.
Sampson said as well as Hinton played Friday, “(Saturday) he was in the witness protection program. I couldn’t even find him.”
Houston: Awaits the winner of Saturday’s second semifinal game between Cincinnati and Wichita State to play for the championship on Sunday.
Memphis: With a 21-13 record, the Tigers will wait to see if they are invited to play in a postseason tournament.
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