MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)—The depth of No. 7 Memphis was just too much for the Houston Cougars.
The Tigers overcame an early Houston lead fueled by aggressive defense, then wore down the Cougars and coasted to a 77-64 victory on Sunday, extending the nation’s longest winning streak to 17.
Chris Douglas-Roberts scored 19 points to lead Memphis. Joey Dorsey added 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Tigers (25-3, 14-0 Conference USA), who also won their 29th consecutive home game.
Memphis weathered the pesky defensive start by the Cougars with a late run in the first half to put the game out of reach. Houston (15-13, 9-5) never threatened the Tigers in the second half.
“We’re deep, and that helps us,” Douglas-Roberts said. “Eventually, a team that is not as deep as us will get worn out because we’re constantly running up and down.”
Senior Jeremy Hunt finished with 14 points for Memphis. Dorsey was 8-of-10 from the field.
“Somebody asked me the one player in the league I’d like to have,” Houston coach Tom Penders said. “Douglas-Roberts is great. All these guys are great. But Dorsey, he’s a stud.”
Robert McKiver led Houston with 32 points, hitting 13 of his 28 shots. While McKiver had a stellar day, he was pretty much alone offensively. No other Cougar was in double figures, and the rest of the Houston players were a combined 11-of-30 shooting. That was contrary to one of Penders’ keys to keeping up with the nationally-ranked Tigers—that Houston needed a great game, while catching Memphis on an off-day.
“We needed more guys to step up,” Penders said. “We had to have more than one guy show up.”
Memphis defeated Houston 79-69 on Jan. 11. Winthrop of the Big South and Memphis are the only teams in the country undefeated in their respective conferences.
The Tigers already had clinched the outright C-USA championship last week, but Memphis players downplayed the accomplishment, saying they wanted to maintain momentum into the postseason.
“What everybody is saying when they are watching our team play is ‘Man, do they play hard. Wow, they chase down balls and rebound. They really pass to each other,’ ” Memphis coach John Calipari said. “The last thing they say is: ‘Man, are they deep.’ That’s the consensus everybody tells me.”
Memphis closed the first half with a 19-5 run to erase a 21-19 Houston lead. The run helped Memphis carry a 38-26 lead into halftime.
McKiver led the Cougars with 13 points in the first half, connecting on 5 of his 11 shots. Despite McKiver’s conversions, Houston shot 33 percent before the half, including Oliver Lafayette, the Cougar’s second-leading scorer, misfiring on six of his seven shots.
Lafayette would end the day with 7 points, missing eight of his 10 shots in the game before fouling out.
“Maybe a lot of that has to do with Memphis,” Penders said. “They were focusing on him, and they’re quick. He just didn’t have a good game offensively.”
Houston pressured Memphis out of its offensive rhythm in the first 13 minutes, picking up the Tigers at halfcourt and pushing them outside their normal offensive sets. Memphis missed seven straight shots, enabling Houston to gain a 21-19 lead on Dion Dowell’s 3-pointer with just over nine minutes left in the half.
At that point, Memphis started running, getting down the floor before Houston could set up. That contributed to the Tigers taking a 12-point halftime lead.
“They got us two or three times in pressure and transition.” Penders said. “For about a 2-minute stretch there, we didn’t get any shots off, and they got that thing going. They’re a momentum team. I needed about nine or 10 timeouts today.”
McKiver kept the Cougars from getting blown out at the start of the second half, scoring 12 straight points to cut the Memphis lead under double digits. That gave McKiver 25 of Houston’s 42 points at the time.
McKiver’s production wasn’t enough to hold Memphis at bay, as the Tigers continued to stretch the second-half lead, eventually reaching 21 points with 1:39 left.