MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) – SMU coach Larry Brown is seeing too much evidence that his 18th-ranked Mustangs don’t respond well when things start going poorly.
That problem popped up again Saturday in the second half of a 67-58 loss to No. 20 Memphis.
“We’ve had a hard time when adversity hits to be able to deal with it,” Brown said of not answering the Tigers’ second-half push. “This is kind of typical of us. We’ve always kind of competed at a high level and then, all of a sudden, stuff happens. We just haven’t taken that next step to handle it. We kind of splinter a little bit.”
Nic Moore led the Mustangs (23-8, 12-6 American Athletic Conference) with 16 points. Nick Russell and Markus Kennedy scored 13 each for SMU, which lost its second straight, the first time this season the Mustangs have lost consecutive games.
SMU still led — 39-38 — on Kennedy’s dunk with 14:28 left. But Memphis scored nine consecutive points, part of a 20-5 rally that took the Tiger lead to 58-44 with 8:58 remaining.
The Mustangs never recovered.
“We started the (second) half off with a terrible shot, and then (Memphis) got two offensive rebounds and a put back that we fouled on. Then we came back and turned it over quick, which set the tone early in the half,” Brown said.
Memphis senior guard Joe Jackson led the second half rally, scoring 15 of his 18 points in the game. The performance provided some redemption for Jackson, who was 16 of 47 from the field in his last five games and started Saturday 1 for 7.
“I was frustrated at halftime,” Jackson said, “and wanted to play better for myself and my teammates. I had to turn on an extra gear and get the game going.
“We had to run and speed the tempo up, which we did in the second half.”
Jackson hit his first four shots after intermission as the Tigers (23-8, 12-6) shot 59 percent in the second half. Memphis senior guard Chris Crawford scored all nine of his points in the game converting a trio of 3-pointers over a minute and a half span during the 20-5 rally. It was evidence of how Memphis’ four senior guards – Jackson, Crawford, Geron Johnson and Michael Dixon — can propel the Tigers.
“Those senior guards willed us to a win,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “Those senior guards would not let us lose.”
Freshman forward Austin Nichols finished with 14 points and nine rebounds for the Tigers.
Memphis found its range in the second 20 minutes, particularly from 3-point land. After missing all six 3s in the first half, Memphis connected on 6 of 13 in the second half.
The Tigers opened the second half with seven straight points, and the game settled into a close affair until Memphis went on another run of nine consecutive points for a 47-39 lead with 12:42 left. At that point, Memphis had connected on 9 of 11 shots in the half.
Johnson’s layup capped the 20-5 rally, fueled by Crawford’s 3-pointers, giving Memphis a 58-44 lead, its largest of the game with 8:58 left.
SMU would get no closer than six the rest of the game. Brown said his team got away from things that were successful early when the Mustangs built the lead to seven in the first half.
“They couldn’t stop us,” Brown said of the Memphis’ defense. “We were running elbow ball screens, and they couldn’t even stop us. Then we got away from it and started taking bad shots. We don’t understand when things go bad, you’ve got to start guarding. That’s the most important thing.”
The first half was intense and sloppy, with tough defense and erratic passing. The Mustangs held a 30-26 lead at halftime behind 10 points from Moore.
The Mustangs built the lead on a trio of 3-pointers around the 8-minute mark, the final one from Moore for a 24-17 lead, the largest advantage for either team in the first half.
“I thought we didn’t match their energy,” Brown said. “We had chances to stretch the lead that we didn’t take advantage of.”
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