Goodbye Top 20.
The newly crowned Conference USA champions traveled to Xavier for a rare February nonconference game and lost to a team currently sixth in the Atlantic 10 standings. That hum you hear is the nationwide harmonizing of C-USA critics. Memphis can beat up on its inferior league brethren, but . . . .
Down 31-20 at halftime, the Tigers staged a rally in the second half built largely on a flurry of three-pointers over a three-and-a-half-minute stretch. Junior guard Geron Johnson (from nearby Dayton, Ohio) hit a trey from the right corner at the 9:50 mark to pull the Tigers within five points (41-36). With two from Chris Crawford and two more from Johnson, Memphis took its first lead of the night (50-49) with 6:25 left in the game. A dunk by Tarik Black gave the Tigers a 52-49 lead, but the margin would not be extended.
A driving layup by Joe Jackson with 1:55 on the clock gave the Tigers their last lead of the night (57-55), as Xavier's Brad Redford hit a three-pointer on the Musketeers' next possession. Johnson missed the first free throw on a one-and-one and D.J. Stephens missed a pair from the line with just over a minute to play.
Down 60-59 with 29 seconds to play, Tiger coach Josh Pastner used a timeout to set his offense. Jackson took the inbounds pass, drove into the lane and dished to a wide-open Crawford in the left corner. Crawford's shot was awry, though. Down two after a missed free throw by Travis Taylor at the other end, Stephens pulled down a rebound only to throw his outlet pass off of Crawford's knee.
With Xavier up 64-61 with 1.5 seconds on the clock, the Tigers attempted a desperation pass-and-shoot from under the Musketeer basket. Stephens drew a foul, made the first free throw, then failed to hit the rim on an intentional miss, giving Xavier possession . . . and the win.
The Tigers were led on the scoreboard by Johnson (14 points), Jackson (11), and Crawford (10).
The loss ends the Tigers' 18-game winning streak, the team's longest in four years under Pastner. (The U of M's 11-game road winning streak is also over, a run that dates back to the 2011-12 season.) They'll next play Saturday at UCF, with hopes of remaining undefeated in C-USA. What remains to be determined is how impressed the NCAA tournament-selection committee will be with the Tigers' C-USA record, spotless or otherwise.