No. 5 Memphis (20-12) bent, but didn’t break down the stretch as the Tigers held on to beat the No. 12 USF Bulls (10-22) 79-77 in Thursday’s first round of the American Athletic Conference championship.
“I’m really proud of how guys hung in there today and finished the game,” Memphis head coach Tubby Smith said. “Even though we lost the lead there, we still did the things to get the win.”
The Tigers held a double-digit lead for much of the second half, but watched it dwindle away late in the game due to scrappy play by the Bulls and their own sloppy play. It is something that junior guard Kareem Brewton, Jr. says Memphis needs to clean up as it takes a step up against No. 4 Tulsa on Friday.
“I feel like we should execute a little bit more – get back to running our plays,” Brewton said. “I felt like we got out of that a little bit at the end.”
Off the court, it’s been a trying week for Smith. A CBS Sports’ Gary Parish report that the Memphis administration was mulling giving the coaching job to Memphis native and former Tiger Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway. Then before the game news broke that Smith’s son, GiGi, was fired as the head coach of Loyola (Md.). Smith said he personally feels supported by the administration, but the business of coaching is tough.
“It’s the profession we chose and unfortunately, you are hired to be fired usually unless you’re in some program that’s just unbelievable,” Smith said.
Memphis was paced by junior forward Kyvon Davenport, who finished with 27 points, while freshman guard David Nickleberry chipped in 14 off the bench. USF’s freshman guard David Collins poured in a career high 30 points for the Bulls with senior guard Stephan Jiggetts chipping in 16.
The Tigers, who’ve now won 6 of their last 7, get to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive one more day as they face the Tulsa Golden Hurricane on Friday. USF’s season is over.