The old adage is that it’s so hard to beat a team three times in one season, and the American Athletic Conference championship game proved that, for better or for worse.
Houston, with All-American Marcus Sasser nursing an injury and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament locked up, had decided that it was more important to stay healthy for the NCAA Tournament than to do whatever it took to beat Memphis for a third time. Even without Sasser, the Cougars are a tough matchup for anybody, but Penny Hardaway’s Tigers came to play.
While Houston didn't have much to play for on Sunday, Memphis absolutely did. The Tigers had never won an American Athletic Conference Tournament title and were looking for momentum going into the NCAA Tournament, which they were able to deliver. After throttling a good Tulane team Saturday, Memphis brought its momentum into the first half against Houston.
After a close first nine minutes, the Tigers exploded with a 23-4 run, and Kendric Davis was as dominant as always. The Tigers’ star point guard scored 16 points in a span of just six and a half minutes, including two threes within 11 seconds of each other.
Finishing with a game-high 31 points, Davis will enter March Madness as the third leading scorer on a per-game basis in the tournament, behind only Purdue’s Zach Edey, and Oral Roberts’ Max Abmas. The 84 points scored by Davis were the most points by a player in AAC Tournament history.
WOW WOW WOW#AmericanHoops x @Memphis_MBB pic.twitter.com/mG1hANnBx4— The American (@American_Conf) March 12, 2023
While the Cougars staged runs in the second half to bring the game close, the Tigers always had an answer. Memphis went six minutes without a field goal as Houston chipped away into the lead early in the second half, but then senior DeAndre Williams hit a three with 10 minutes left to bring the lead from five to eight, and Houston never got within two possessions again.
When the Cougars cut the lead to seven with less than seven minutes left, the Tigers responded with an 8-0 run, with four different players contributing to it. Memphis maintained control of the game despite shooting just 37.5% from the field in the second.
“I'm just happy to be here for my school, for my city,” Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway said. “Memphis, I love y’all.”
The 75-65 loss didn’t seem to affect the Cougars’ standing from the committee, as they received the second overall No. 1 seed. They will play Horizon League Champion Northern Kentucky in the Midwest region Thursday night. Marcus Sasser is probable to return for that contest.
As for Memphis, the win vaulted it up to an No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It will play Conference USA champion Florida Atlantic, a nine-seed in the first round Friday night.