DALLAS (AP)—Memphis ended the regular season with a perfect record in Conference USA, not a perfect performance.
“This game was stressful for us,” Chris Douglas-Roberts said.
Instead of another runaway victory against SMU, the No. 6 Tigers needed a late basket and two second-chance free throws from Douglas-Roberts to win 64-61 on Saturday night for their 19th straight victory—including all 16 C-USA games.
The Tigers (27-3, 16-0 C-USA) overcame an early 11-point deficit to lead at halftime, but didn’t go ahead for good until Douglas-Roberts hit a 3-pointer to make it 59-57 with 3:47 left. Douglas-Roberts had 19 points, including two free throws with 12.6 seconds remaining right after he had missed two.
“We’ve been playing for March for 1 1/2 -2 months,” coach John Calipari said. “We know we have to play better than this to advance.”
Memphis played its third game since clinching its second straight C-USA title, but capped the regular season as the first to go through the league without a loss since Cincinnati in 1999-2000.
The last victory was much more difficult than expected.
SMU (14-16, 3-13) lost for the eighth time in nine games, a stretch that began with a 36-point loss at Memphis on Feb. 3.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them if we won,” first-year SMU coach Matt Doherty said. “They were very disruptive down the end. I don’t know what happened when Douglas missed the foul shot and got the rebound. That was the dagger.”
Jeremy Hunt missed the rim with a 3-point attempt with 1:02 left for Memphis, but Joey Dorsey grabbed the rebound and scored on a putback to make it 61-58. With 22 seconds left, Hunt made the second of his free throws for a 62-58 lead.
Devon Pearson then made a 3-pointer for SMU, falling down and under the feet of Doherty as the shot went through the hoop.
Douglas-Roberts was fouled in the backcourt and missed two free throws with 13.6 seconds left. But he got the long rebound on the second miss and was fouled again, hitting the next two shots.
“This prepares us for the NCAA tournament to see who will make plays for us at the end,” Douglas-Roberts said.
Memphis finished one victory shy of the Final Four last season.
Ike Ofoegbu’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer came up short for SMU, which hasn’t beaten a ranked team at home since 1993.
Ofoegbu had 21 points while Pearson had 16 points and nine rebounds. Donatas Rackauskas, one of a trio of seniors playing their last home game, had 14 points before he fouled out with 11 minutes left.
Dorsey had 13 points and seven rebounds for Memphis. Hunt had 11 points despite making 3 of 14 shots.
Douglas-Roberts made a 3-pointer for Memphis on the opening possession before SMU scored 14 straight points.
Pearson and Rackauskas had consecutive putbacks to start the run before Ofoegbu hit a 3-pointer for a 9-3 lead and Memphis coach John Calipari called timeout less than 2 1/2 minutes into the game. That didn’t slow down the Mustangs.
Ofoegbu had a tip-in and Pearson made a 3-pointer from the right wing to make it 14-3. Another 3-pointer by Pearson pushed SMU ahead 19-7, its largest lead in the game.
“They were playing out of their minds,” Dorsey said.
“I’m looking up thinking we’re going to be down by 20,” said Calipari, who put in four substitutes on the first timeout.
Pearson had a breakaway layup on a pass from Dez Willingham with 10:17 left in the first half on what almost was a backcourt turnover. But that was the last SMU basket until Ofoegbu’s putback in the final second, as the Mustangs missed 10 consecutive field goals and had five turnovers.
Memphis forced five-second violations on consecutive possessions before Willingham stepped out of bounds trying to get around a defender.
Willingham’s miscue came after Hunt made two free throws to get Memphis within a point. The Tigers finally went ahead when Douglas-Roberts made a leaning layup in traffic from under the basket with 4:25 left—and they still led by a point at halftime.