Sunday, February 26, 2017

Houston 72, Tigers 71

Posted By on Sun, Feb 26, 2017 at 7:44 PM

The Tigers' tailspin continued Sunday afternoon at FedExForum. When Jeremiah Martin's desperation shot was partially blocked as time expired, Memphis left the court with a fourth consecutive defeat, a .500 (8-8) record in the American Athletic Conference, and the likelihood of having to win four games in four days at the AAC tournament in Hartford for a cherished NCAA tournament bid.

Freshman forward K.J. Lawson summarized the latest defeat for each of his teammates, and much of the remaining Tiger fan base: "Every loss is the same. I don't like losing. I treat it like someone died. I'm a sore loser."

"Losing four in a row is something I haven't done, ever," said K.J.'s brother, Dedric Lawson. "It's not the end of the world. We've just got to turn it around, get a winning streak going. Stay grounded. Don't get too low."
click to enlarge Jeremiah Martin - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jeremiah Martin

A likely first-team all-conference pick, Dedric earned his 19th double-double of the season with 12 points and 13 rebounds, but missed seven of ten shots from the field and an important free throw that would have tied the game at 69 with 1:51 to play. The sophomore forward was to receive the ball on the game's final play, but K.J. chose to target Martin with his brother in traffic near the basket.

The Cougars led for the first 36 minutes of the game, by as many as 13 in the first half, and by five (40-35) at halftime. But Memphis closed the deficit, and with reserves Jake McDowell, Craig Randall, and Christian Kessee on the floor for a key first-half stretch after Dedric Lawson went to the bench with two fouls. Markel Crawford hit three-pointers — one from the left side, the second from the right — on consecutive Tiger possessions to tie the game at 66 with just over four minutes to play. A Jimario Rivers free throw gave the U of M its only lead, 67-66, with 3:22 to play.

But Cougar guard Rob Gray (17 points) converted a three-point play and Damyean Dotson (31 points) hit a jumper to give Houston a 71-68 edge. Dedric Lawson converted a three-point play of his own to tie the score, but Rivers was called for hand-checking Dotson with three seconds to play. Dotson made the second of his two free throws for the decisive point.

Tiger coach Tubby Smith said he was too far away to judge the accuracy of the foul call on Rivers, but acknowledged his players are taught to back away when a player brings the ball to waist level, to avoid precisely the foul Rivers was given.

"We had no answer for Dotson," said Smith. "We did some good things, but we just didn't finish the right way." When asked about his team's losing skid, and how it might be reversed, the coach seemed to be in search mode.

"When the pressure's on," he asked, "how are you going to respond? We've come close. But we haven't had that intensity level we've needed. For the most part, our guys give us all they have. Their attitudes have been good. I've probably been a little more chippy."

K.J. Lawson led the Tigers with 20 points and pulled down nine rebounds. Martin had 16 points and five assists. The Tigers shot better from the field (48 percent) than did Houston (42 percent), but the Cougars made nine treys to the Tigers' five.

Houston has now won seven of eight games and improves to 20-8 (11-5 in the AAC). The Tigers have lost five of six and are now 18-11 overall.

The Tigers host Tulane Thursday night before finishing the regular season with a trip to SMU on Saturday.


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