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VOL. 133 | NO. 51 | Monday, March 12, 2018

Tigers Bounced from AAC Tourney; Was the Game Tubby's Last at Memphis?

By Don Wade

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The No. 5 seed Memphis Tigers opened the American Athletic Conference Tournament doing what they were supposed to do by beating No. 12 seed South Florida. Then they upset No. 4 Tulsa on buzzer beater.

And for the first half of their semifinal on Saturday against top-seeded Cincinnati at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, the Tigers looked like they were going to pull a major upset. If they had, it would have added layers of intrigue to the ongoing story about the University of Memphis being expected to fire second-year head coach Tubby Smith and replace him with former Tiger great Penny Hardaway.

But the drama, like the 42-29 halftime lead the University of Memphis enjoyed, caved in under a 21-2 run by the Bearcats on the way to a 70-60 win that may have ended the Tigers’ season and Smith’s tenure as coach.

Memphis head coach Tubby Smith, right, calls out instructions behind Cincinnati guard Justin Jenifer (3) during the first half of a semifinals game at the American Athletic Conference tournament Saturday, March 10, 2018, in Orlando, Fla.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Asked in the postgame press conference if he believed this was his last game as the Tigers’ coach, Smith said: “Who knows?”

Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin took up for Smith, noting the Tigers’ winning record after losing their best player, Jeremiah Martin, to a season-ending foot injury during the upset of No. 23 Houston on Feb. 22 at FedExForum. If this was indeed Smith’s last game as coach, then that 91-85 win will stand as his signature victory at Memphis.

Counting the Houston game when Martin was injured in the first half, the Tigers won five of their last seven games and after Saturday’s defeat, the Tigers are 21-13.

Is it enough to get an NIT bid?

Even Smith sounded like he believed it to be a stretch. He acknowledged, in so many words, the Tigers took some bad losses this season both in and out of conference. Said Smith: "We have done some good things at the end of the season. We really didn’t beat anyone of consequence, I guess you could say. But this group has really come on to kind of overachieve to some degree.”

Freshman guard Jamal Johnson led Memphis with 17 points, but was shut out in the second half. Forward Kyvon Davenport registered his eighth double-double of the season with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Guard Kareem Brewton Jr. had eight points and a team-high five assists. Jimario Rivers left the game early with a head and back injury.

After hitting 7-of-12 shots from 3-point range in the first half (58.3 percent), the Tigers missed all eight 3-point attempts in the second half.

The Bearcats handed out 18 assists to just three turnovers while Memphis had 11 assists and nine turnovers. Each team pulled down 37 rebounds.

Jarron Cumberland led Cincinnati with 18 points and Gary Clark finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds.

Last week, UofM president M. David Rudd told the Commercial Appeal that the administration would evaluate the program after the season. Neither Rudd nor athletic director Tom Bowen has offered any public comment since, even as multiple media reports claim that Smith will be fired and Hardaway, who is coaching East High School, will be his successor.

As of Saturday night, the Tigers sat at No. 160 in the kenpom.com college basketball ratings index, right behind No. 159 Towson and just ahead of No. 161 Hofstra.

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