Losing streaks can be deadly to NCAA tournament dreams. The Tigers must deal with their first such slide of the 2010-11 season after dropping tonight’s game against the Golden Hurricane, their first loss to Tulsa since the 2001 NIT semifinals. Despite limiting Justin Hurtt — who entered the game averaging 20.5 points per game — to 11 points (all after halftime) and despite holding Tulsa to 34-percent shooting for the game, the Tigers lost their second Conference USA game at home over the last six seasons. Memphis now must head to Gonzaga for Saturday’s game with a record of 16-6 (5-3 in C-USA play) . . . and that losing streak.
“Shots just wouldn’t go down,” said Will Barton in a quiet locker room after the game. “Looks we usually hit just didn’t go down tonight. It’s tough on your psyche. I tried not to get too down, not to worry about my individual shot. But I’m so distraught right now.” Barton made only two of eight field-goal attempts and finished the contest with 11 points. With the Tigers down 62-61 and a minute left to play, Barton drove the baseline and attempted a fade-away jumper from the right side that didn’t fall. True to form for this game.
“Tulsa got 33 extra offensive possessions,” emphasized coach Josh Pastner. “They had 16 offensive rebounds and we had 17 turnovers. And the turnovers were unforced. We have to learn to value the basketball.”
The game was rocky from the early (6:00) tip-off. Tulsa shot 28 percent in the first half but only trailed 30-27. Tulsa center Steven Idlet was limited to 21 minutes by foul trouble, but still scored 17 points on 8 of 11 shooting. The Tigers’ Will Coleman and Tarik Black combined for nine fouls (Hurtt converted two go-ahead free throws after Coleman fouled out with 1:19 to play), but also contributed a total of 24 points and 19 rebounds. Coleman earned his second double-double of the season, and Black his eighth consecutive game with at least nine points. Joe Jackson led Memphis with 16 points but was also one of three Tigers with four turnovers (along with Black and Chris Crawford).
Down three with eight seconds to play, the Tigers forced what appeared to be a turnover when an inbounds pass bounced out of bounds off the knee of Tulsa’s Idlet. Officials, though, didn’t see the play clearly and went to the possession arrow, which awarded the ball to the Golden Hurricane. Antonio Barton managed to steal the inbounds pass, but missed a three-point attempt from the top of the key. Will Barton pulled down the rebound but missed another long-distance attempt from the right corner. The win for Tulsa ended a 12-game losing streak to the U of M and improved the Golden Hurricane’s record to 12-10 (5-3 in C-USA action).
The relentlessly positive Pastner wouldn’t hear of dampened spirits after the loss. “We still have a lot to play for,” he said. “No matter what, if we can go 8-0 in the second half of the league race, we’ll be 13-3 and we’ll have won the league title. We’ve put ourselves in a bit of a hole, but we’re gonna have to find a way to get out of it. In the end, you always have an opportunity in the C-USA tournament. We want to play in the NCAA’s and compete for national championships. But to do that, we have to value possession of the basketball. We emphasize it, we run for it. We’ve got to protect it.”
Senior center Will Coleman shook his head at the suggestion of a losing streak taking hold of his team. “We had a slight mishap,” he said, a bright, white Tiger cap atop his head. “This is no downward spiral. We’re going to be fine. I have faith in my guys.”
• The great Jack Eaton was saluted before the game, as he will soon enter the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. “Big Jack” was the longtime voice of the Tigers, from 1959 to 1987.
• Junior guard Charles Carmouche missed the game with a knee injury suffered in a collision with Will Barton during practice Monday.
• The controversial call on the inbounds play near the game’s end is not a “correctible error,” and no video replay was considered to confirm the officials’ call. Thus the possession arrow.