ORLANDO, Fla. – The University of Memphis rallied from a 12-point second-half deficit, but couldn’t completely overcome it in a 79-72 American Athletic Conference loss at UCF Saturday.
Jeremiah Martin led the Tigers with 25 points and a team-high six assists and Kareem Brewton Jr. added 14 points and a team-high seven rebounds in the loss at CFE Arena. Memphis (15-11, 7-6 The American) saw its two-game win streak snapped.
UCF (19-5, 9-3 The American) avenged a 20-point loss to the Tigers at FedExForum on Jan. 27. The Knights got 25 points from B.J. Taylor, 17 from Aubrey Dawkins and 15 from Tacko Fall in the victory.
The Tigers trailed by only one, 69-68, with 2:02 left after a layup by Raynere Thornton, but the Knights responded by scoring nine straight to seal the win. Dawkins began the 9-0 streak with a key 3-pointer.
“That shot definitely buried us,” said Tigers coach Penny Hardaway. “We just made some mental mistakes at the end, but we are getting better.”
Memphis shot 50 percent (16-of-32) in the second half to make several runs at the Knights. For the game, the Tigers shot 44.3 percent.
Martin continued his strong play on the road. He was averaging 26.2 points in league road games and his 25-point effort against UCF included going 8-of-19 from the floor and 7-of-8 from the free throw line.
As frustrated as he was the Tigers were unable to complete the comeback try, Martin said he felt the Tigers “are headed in the right direction” as The American Tournament approaches. It will be played in Memphis March 14-17.
“We had a great opportunity,” Hardaway said. “And we let it slip away.”
Trailing by seven at the half, the Tigers chipped away at the UCF lead and eventually reclaimed the advantage at 41-40 following back-to-back baskets from Brewton. It was the UofM’s first lead since going up, 8-5, in the opening minutes of the game. During the 12-4 Memphis run to open the half and take the lead, Brewton scored six points.
The Tigers led 44-42 after a 3-pointer in the corner from Isaiah Maurice, but the Knights followed by scoring 11 straight to take a 53-44 advantage. UCF increased its lead to 12 points (64-52) on a 3-pointer by Dawkins with 7:06 remaining.
Struggling to shoot over the 7-foot-6 Fall, the Tigers shot 38 percent in the opening, missing multiple attempts trying to clear Fall’s outstretched arms. As a result, UCF led 36-29 at the half.
The Knights shot 45 percent in the opening half and never trailed after taking a 13-10 lead with 14:46 to go on a Taylor 3-pointer. UCF stretched its advantage to 10 points on several occasions late in the half, the last coming at 36-26 on a floater in the lane by Terrell Allen.
Martin completed a three-point play with 1:02 left to make it a seven-point game at the half.
The Tigers shot 38 percent in the first half and had 19 rebounds, the same as UCF. Taylor led all scorers at the break with 14 points.
Memphis returns home after a two-game road trip to play Tulane Wednesday night at FedExForum. Tipoff is 6 p.m., and the game will be shown on ESPNU.