The Memphis Tigers (20-9, 9-7 American Athletic Conference) returned to FedExForum Wednesday night for their final home game of the regular season, Wichita State (22-7, 10-6 AAC).
A white-out crowd did not equate to a white-hot start.
Neither team could get shots to fall to start. The first Tiger bucket did not come until nearly five minutes had ticked away. Halfway through the first, the two sides were a combined 6-of-33 from the field. While runs were traded back-and-forth, a couple of big makes from Tyler Harris late sent the Tigers into the break leading 29-24.
Coming out of the intermission, Memphis would put its foot on the gas and keep it there the rest of the way. Tyler Harris led the way with a season-high 19 points, Precious Achiuwa turned in his 17th double-double of the season with 14 points and 16 rebounds and Penny Hardaway’s team cruised to a 68-60 Senior Night victory to improve to 21-9 on the year.
“We’re going to keep going, no matter what,” coach Penny Hardaway said. “We’re just going to keep fighting and scrapping. Nothing is going to stop us from understanding what we’re trying to do and we’re going to keep pushing. This is a family and we’ve supported each other through everything we’ve gone through this year so we’re not going to stop right now.”
Nearly all season, Memphis has been plagued by stretches of inconsistent and sloppy play. However, Thursday night, when the lights were the brightest and the stakes were raised, they turned in one of their most complete performances on each side of the ball.
“Congratulations to Memphis,” Shockers coach Gregg Marshall said. “They obviously played well tonight and we just couldn’t get any traction for 40 minutes. We could not get traction. Tyler Harris played tremendous. We lost him too many times.”
With now only one game left to go before the American Athletic Conference Tournament next week in Fort Worth, Texas, this win further muddies an already complicated seeding picture. Wichita State, Memphis, UConn, and SMU all remain in flux as they vie for fourth place and the final first-round bye.
For the Tigers, the math is simple: beat Houston on Sunday and the four-spot is secured. A loss likely means the fifth or sixth seed, but with the AAC as chaotic as ever, anything is possible.
“My freshman year, I really didn’t understand how the seeding and everything went,” Tyler Harris said. “I know playing all those games back-to-back-to-back is just going to be tough, so of course we want to try to win and get the bye.”
Wichita State will close its season Sunday at home against Tulsa. Meanwhile, SMU will travel to South Florida while UConn will look to continue its late-season surge at Tulane. No matter the outcome, Hardaway and his guys are only focusing on what they can control.
“We’ve wanted to control our own fate from the very beginning but obviously we had some things that happened,” Hardaway said. “Injuries was a big part of it. Some self-inflicting wounds as well in conference. It’s so tough to win this conference, but to be put back into a situation where you can win at Houston and have a first-round bye in the tournament, and I think that win gets you in the NCAA tournament, that’s all you can you wish for.”
The Tigers will close their regular season Sunday at Houston. Tip-off at the Fertitta Center is set for 11 a.m.