Tiger coach Josh Pastner has emphasized all winter that there’s no game his team is supposed to win, that particularly in this transition season, no opponent can be overlooked.
The SMU Mustangs shouldn’t necessarily be overlooked, but today’s matinee was a game the Tigers were, indeed, supposed to win. SMU has been among Conference USA’s bottom feeders throughout Matt Doherty’s four seasons as coach. (Doherty entered today’s game with a 42-68 record in Dallas.) Led by Papa Dia (23 points) and Derek Williams (25 points), SMU erased a five-point halftime deficit and beat the Tigers, 70-60, landing perhaps the most damaging blow to date to the U of M chances for reaching the NCAA tournament.
The Tigers’ short rotation caught up with them, as a whistle-happy officiating crew called a total of 27 fouls on the Tigers. (Five Memphis players had three fouls with eight minutes left to play.) Late three-pointers from Elliot Williams and Doneal Mack tightened the final score, but not enough to offset the advantage SMU gained at the free-throw line. The Mustangs hit 33 of 38 from the charity stripe, compared with the Tigers’ 12 of 19. SMU outrebounded the Tigers, 38-28. Only one Tiger pulled down as many as five boards (Roburt Sallie with six).
The loss was the Tigers’ first on the road in C-USA play since March 2, 2006 (at UAB), ending a streak of 27 victories. It’s the first loss to SMU since the Mustangs joined C-USA for the 2005-06 season.
Elliot Williams led the Tigers with 19 points, followed by Sallie with 17 and Mack with 16.
The loss damages the marquee value of the Tigers’ showdown with UAB next Wednesday. The Blazers (18-2, 6-0 in C-USA) take a seven-game winning streak to the floor tonight against UTEP. Memphis (15-6, 5-2) now needs an upset by the Miners to remain a game behind UAB in the C-USA standings.