No. 5 Memphis beats Houston 69-60
HOUSTON (AP)—Memphis moved within one victory of another perfect run through Conference USA.
Tyreke Evans scored 23 points, Shawn Taggart added 12 points and 10 rebounds and the fifth-ranked Tigers got a test on Wednesday night, but finally pulled away for a 69-60 win over Houston.
Robert Dozier added 15 points for the Tigers (27-3, 15-0), who have won 21 straight games, the nation’s longest winning streak.
Memphis has won 57 consecutive league games, 24 on the road. A victory over Tulane on Saturday will complete the Tigers’ third straight unbeaten march through their regular-season conference schedule.
The Tigers had already clinched the regular-season league title, and Evans said the streaks are keeping them focused as they roll toward next week’s conference tournament.
“It’s on our mind a lot,” said Evans, who had seven rebounds and four assists. “We don’t want to mess up those streaks. Every night, we go out there and play our hardest. Even when we’re not having a good night, we can still go out there, play hard and try to win.”
Memphis hasn’t lost since coach John Calipari moved Evans, a freshman, to point guard. He found a few things to nitpick in Wednesday’s performance, but was pleased overall.
“He played with good pace,” Calipari said. “His shot selection, at times, was good. There were some choices of plays that he’s got to get better at. We’ve got to work him through it.
“But I’m mad at him, and he goes for 23, with seven rebounds and four assists,” Calipari said, “and he’s just a freshman.”
Aubrey Coleman scored 19 points and Qa’rraan Calhoun added 15 for the Cougars (18-10, 9-6), who have lost nine straight to Memphis.
The Tigers never trailed after opening the game on an 11-2 run. The Cougars missed six of their first seven shots, all from the perimeter.
Evans scored 13 points in the first 10 minutes, with the field goals all coming on layups or dunks. The Cougars turned two consecutive steals into fast-break baskets, but those only cut the Tigers’ lead to 21-13.
Houston did a better job guarding Evans in an 83-68 loss to Memphis on Jan. 31, holding him to 10 points.
“He’s one of those guys who can beat you with a lot of different things,” Houston coach Tom Penders said. “Tonight, he was super.”
Houston missed 18 of its first 24 shots and stayed close early by forcing six turnovers in the first 14 minutes. Roburt Sallie then banked in a 3-pointer and Dozier tipped in a miss by Pierre Henderson-Niles to put Memphis up 30-17.
The Cougars shot better late in the first half, and Desmond Wade’s 3-pointer with 3:12 left capped an 8-0 run. The Tigers led 37-31 at halftime, despite a 22-16 edge in rebounds.
The Tigers had two turnovers early in the second half and Houston cut the lead to 40-37. After a timeout, Calhoun swished a 3-pointer from the corner to tie it at 42.
Calhoun hit a deeper 3 with 9:41 left to tie it at 48 and prompt the loudest roar of the night from the crowd of 6,049, the largest of the season at Hofheinz Pavilion.
“We got a little bit sloppy there,” Evans said. “We’ve got to clean that up.”
The Tigers went back inside to retake control.
Dozier, Taggart and Evans drove for layups before Dozier finished a fast break with another easy basket. He was fouled and completed the three-point play to put the Tigers up 59-50.
“We just wanted to attack the basket,” Evans said. “If we got open jump shots, we definitely would’ve taken it. But I started seeing the lane open up, and tried to get inside with the pass.”
The Cougars reverted to difficult outside shots and missed five straight as Memphis pulled away. Houston cut the deficit to 63-58 with 2 minutes left, but Dozier hit two free throws with 1:39 left.
Calhoun missed a running shot, Taggart rebounded and the Tigers didn’t miss a free throw down the stretch. Memphis went 14-for-14 from the free-throw line in the game.
The Cougars shot 35 percent (22-of-63) and were outrebounded 37-33. Houston wraps up the regular season against SMU on Saturday and will need a win and a strong showing in the conference tournament to even make a case for an NCAA tournament bid.
With only two seniors, Penders is already looking forward to next season.
“That’s why I’m so excited about this team,” Penders said. “We’ve got some very good players.”