Kendric Davis poured in 31 points as Memphis built a huge lead and held on for a 75-65 victory over top-ranked Houston on Sunday afternoon to capture the American Athletic Conference championship in Fort Worth, Texas.
Davis scored 20 points in the pivotal first half.
The second-seeded Tigers (26-8) earned the AAC’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Houston, the AAC’s top seed, could still earn a No. 1 seed in the 68-team field.
Houston (31-3), which was seeking its third straight AAC tournament championship, played without All-American and league player of the year Marcus Sasser, who injured his groin in the Cougars’ win over Cincinnati on Saturday.
DeAndre Williams added 16 points and 13 rebounds for the Tigers, with Alex Lomax scoring 10.
Jamal Shead led Houston with 16 points while Jarace Walker had 13 and J’Wan Roberts scored 12 and took 20 rebounds in the loss, which snapped a 13-game win streak for the Cougars.
It’s debatable if even Sasser could have done enough to stymie Memphis’ first-half outburst that netted the Tigers a 46-31 lead at the break.
Memphis led by just 17-16 at the 11:22 mark of the half after the Cougars’ Tramon Mark canned a pullup jumper. The Tigers then reeled off the 15-2 run over the next 6 1/2 minutes to grab the game by the throat.
Houston missed 10 straight shots over that decisive stretch.
Davis canned back-to-back 30-foot 3-pointers and then made a driving layup to expand Memphis’ lead to 40-20 with 3:36 to play before halftime. The latter bucket gave Davis 20 points, equalizing Houston’s total output to that point.
A late 6-2 spurt by the Cougars cut their deficit to 15 points at the break. Memphis scored 46 points over the first 20 minutes; Houston gave up 46 and 48 points over entire games in its two wins in the tournament.
Houston muscled its way back into the game in the second half, with Shead’s 3-pointer at the 11:55 mark cutting the Memphis lead to 53-48.
But the Tigers righted the ship and ruled the final stretch, pushing its lead to 70-55 with an 8-0 run capped by Williams’ putback layup with 4:43 to play.
–Field Level Media