The Tigers were pushed closer out of the tournament picture after the loss to No. 21 Houston.
Memphis (21-10, 10-8 American Athletic Conference) fell back into median of the conference after the loss to No. 21 Houston (23-8, 13-5 AAC). Coach Penny Hardaway said they knew what the challenge was playing the Cougars in Houston.
"It was going to be about protecting the ball and boxing out and we didn't get it done," Hardaway said. "I gotta do a better job with that with my squad of being more prepared to play a game like this."
The Tigers had an ultimatum with NCAA Tournament looming as they approached their season-finale. Memphis had to beat juggernaut Houston or rely on the AAC Tournament. The Tigers could not dismantle their ranked foe a second time and lost by seven.
Memphis traded the lead for most of the game but the late push by the Cougars dismantled those efforts. Hardaway said the team knew what Houston was capable of and he was proud of the team's effort.
"I think in the second half they made tough shots," Hardaway said. "They are going to give you nothing but forty minutes of energy and you have to be prepared for it."
The Tigers truly kept up with and at times surpassed the Cougars. There were seven lead changes and the game was tied five times. Memphis seemed to play a clone statistically. The Tigers finished with a 36 field goal percentage compared to Houston's 34.3 percent. The Cougars went 23.1 percent from the three-point arc and Memphis edged them with 25 percent.
The largest lead for both teams was six until Houston ran away from Memphis with under five minutes left in the game. Both teams took off for a 9-0 run; Memphis with 5:41 left in the first half and Houston with 14:07 left in the second.
Lester Quinones said the team has stuck together, kept composure and never separated after tough games.
"When we are together and everyone is for each other we are one of the best teams in the country," Quinones said. "I feel like we need to go back tonight and really just come together and talk on this and not take this loss as dreadful."
The turnovers returned to cut the Tigers down from behind. Memphis had 17 turnovers in the game and Houston had less than half with eight. The Cougars scored 18 points from the 17 turnovers and Memphis only got nine from the eight Houston mistakes. Hardaway said they need to take care of the the team's weaknesses and those are turnovers and rebounding.
"I think it is just going into the game with a clear mind," Hardaway said. "For forty minutes just understanding what we need and what we want on both ends of the floor and not letting anything else distract that."
Precious Achiuwa finished the day leading the team with 25 points and 15 rebounds. Achiuwa earned his 18th double-double of the season and has the most double-doubles among all Division 1 freshmen and in the entire AAC. Achiuwa said he does not get the work done alone.
"It is just definitely the help from my teammates," Achiuwa said. "Them encouraging me everyday and them staying positive definitely helps me a lot."
The Tigers ended the regular season and moved on to a break before the American Athletic Conference tournament. Memphis was sent home and now the team awaits the conference seating chart to become official.
The Tigers are likely seeded at a four, five or six spot depending in the results from the other matches in the conference.