MEMPHIS -- When No. 21 Memphis needed to fend off an upset bid by gritty Houston at FedExForum on Wednesday night, it bet on Black.
Junior forward Tarik Black, a starter throughout his college career until earlier this season, scored 11 of his 15 points in the second half to help the Tigers hold off the Cougars 81-74 before a crowd of 16,791.
Memphis (23-3, 12-0 Conference USA) recorded its 17th straight victory, tying Akron for the longest winning streak in the nation. The Tigers haven't lost since Dec. 15, when then-No. 6 Louisville overcame an early double-digit deficit for an 87-76 victory.
Trailing by seven at the break, Houston pulled into a 41-41 tie by outscoring the Tigers 13-6 in the first four minutes of the second half.
Suddenly realizing it had doubled the Cougars in the first half on points scored in the paint, Memphis began getting the ball inside to Black, its 6-foot-9, 262-pound junior post.
He responded with three straight power buckets, and the high-flying D.J. Stephens added two more in a 10-2 run that got the Tigers headed back in a positive direction.
Memphis led 65-50 before Houston (15-10, 4-8) rattled off eight straight points. That lit a fire under the Tigers, who went on a 9-1 run, re-kindling the ball movement they showed early in the game.
But the Cougars didn't go quietly. Their full-court press rattled Memphis, cutting the Tigers' lead to 75-68 with 55.7 seconds left on a TaShawn Thomas dunk.
Adonis Thomas led Memphis with 22 points, and he added eight rebounds. Stephens added 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Chris Crawford flirted with a triple-double by finishing with 11 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists.
Joseph Young led Houston with 22 points, and TaShawn Thomas added 20 points and six boards.
Memphis had a double-digit lead with 8:29 left in the first half, but never could take it any higher. The energy that the Tigers brought in the game's opening 10 minutes, when they dunked five times (four off lobs), seemed to fade though Memphis coach Josh Pastner did his best to keep fresh bodies on the floor.
What worked best for the Tigers early was snappy ball movement, with Adonis Thomas the beneficiary. Continuing his fine play of late, having scored in double figures in four straight games entering Wednesday's contest, Adonis Thomas had 12 points and four rebounds in the opening half.
Thomas led an aggressive group of Tigers' rebounders that helped Memphis hold a 12-4 edge in first half points.
And though he didn't shoot well, making just 1-of-5 shots in the first half, Crawford compensated for his lack of shooting touch with eight rebounds and four assists before intermission.
Houston managed to stay within striking distance through the first 20 minutes, because of TaShawn Thomas.
Thomas, named C-USA's Player of the Week after averaging 21 points and 9.6 rebounds last week, had eight points and four rebounds before the break.