As far as kisses in public places go, this was one Doneal Mack — and 17,238 of his closest friends — won’t soon forget. With just under two minutes to play in what Mack hopes was his final home game as a Tiger, the senior guard lowered himself at midcourt and kissed the U of M logo before heading to the Memphis bench in front of a standing ovation. The last shot he made in the blowout win over Tulsa was appropriately a three-pointer from the top of the key. Better yet, the converted shot gave fellow senior Willie Kemp his 10th assist of the game, a new career high.
“It was spur of the moment,” Mack said after the game. “This was my last time playing on this court for the Tigers; a lot of blood, sweat, and tears on that court. I had many of my best moments on that court. It was a way of showing the fans and city how much I enjoyed them, how much I appreciate their encouragement. My way of saying thank you.”
The Tigers’ final regular season game got off to an ugly start, Tulsa missing seven of its first eight shots and Memphis four of its first five. Ten minutes in, the game was knotted at 11. But Mack hit his first trey of the afternoon and was followed by a thunderous dunk from Elliot Williams over Tulsa’s Justin Hurtt that brought the crowd to its feet. That 16-11 lead was expanded to 30-19 at halftime, thanks in large part to back-to-back three-pointers from Drew Barham and D.J. Stephens (the first trey of the season for Stephens). An 18-9 run over the first eight minutes of the second half ended any suspense.
Memphis held Tulsa’s top two scorers in check throughout the first 20 minutes, Jerome Jordan getting only three points and Ben Uzoh none before halftime. “We got back in transition,” emphasized Mack. “We worked on that all week, stopping Uzoh and Jordan.”
Kemp played a big role in putting the clamps on Uzoh (a player closing in on 2,000 points for his career). As for Jordan, aggressive play by Will Coleman had the Golden Hurricane center in foul trouble early. (Coleman took 14 free throws and made half to finish with 15 points and nine rebounds.)
The script for Senior Day was so complete that walk-on Aaron Jacques made it onto the floor near the game’s conclusion and converted his first field goal of the season.
“I’m so proud of Willie Kemp and Doneal Mack,” said coach Josh Pastner, “to end their careers here at FedExForum like that. That was something special. I told our guys to enjoy it, but we have a lot of basketball to play. You know, if I had said back in April that we’d be 23-8 and 13-3 [in Conference USA play], you’d have said I was crazy.”
In addition to Coleman, four other Tigers reached double figures in the scoring column: Mack (14), Wesley Witherspoon (11), Angel Garcia (11), and Williams (10).
The Tigers will next play in the quarterfinals of the C-USA tournament in Tulsa next Thursday, at noon. Having won seven of their last eight games, the Tigers are giving the NCAA tournament selection committee something to, at the very least, consider.
Mack and Kemp finished their careers with a home record of 74-5. Should Memphis end up playing in the NIT, the Tigers could host a game (or two) at FedExForum. It’s unlikely, though, that we’ll see another smooch on the hardwood this season.