Memphis-Houston: Poised Tigers Beat Back Cougars

Leroy Watson Jr.Senior Writer IMarch 5, 2009

Tyreke Evans and the University of Memphis find themselves in the same no-win scenario night after night.


When Memphis defeats yet another one of its Conference USA brethren, the nation lets out a collective yawn. If the result is a blowout, a rout was expected. If the final is close, the Tigers are showing that they are really not what they are cracked up to be.


With freshman phenom Evans, no one bats an eye if he scores 20. In fact, if the kid only scores 13 points, Memphis fans cry, ‘Tyreke didn’t play well last night.’ He might have rung up six assists, eight rebounds and two steals, but it was still an off night.


Against that backdrop, Memphis (27-3, 15-0 in Conference USA) defeated the Houston Cougars, 69-60, at Hofheinz Pavillion. Rest assured that the doubters will refuse to give the Houston Cougars credit for hanging tough, preferring to question the Tigers’ moxie instead.


Evans scored nine of the Tigers’ first 11 points on his way to a game-high 23, 19 of them in the first 31 minutes of action. Some will prefer to focus on the fact that he “only” scored four points in the last nine minutes of the clash.


Such is life when much is expected of you.


In road contests, the Tigers have to deal with, not only an energized, rabid crowd, but also a conference foe that is emboldened by the thought of being the team to end “The Streak.”


Houston fans illustrated the type of zeal that the Tigers face on the road. Early in the second half, Evans knifed into the lane for a shot attempt, and Zamal Nixon of Houston was clearly still moving after sliding under him in an attempt to force a charging call. The refs rightly called him for the blocking foul.


The Cougar fans roared, “BULL-SH*T, BULL-SH*T” repeatedly.


Houston’s players matched the intensity of the home crowd. After falling into early deficits of 21-9 and 30-17, coach Tom Penders had his team run the shot clock down on its possessions, effectively shortening the contest. The Cougars' defensive intensity pitched sharply forward and the team began to stop the Tiger attack.


The Cougars had made the mistake of trying to run with the Tigers in the first part of the first half. The more the pace slowed, the more they were able to cut into the lead.


The Cougs’ defense was surprisingly stingy in the half-court, which kept Memphis from running away with the game, both literally and figuratively.


In the end, though, the Tigers were simply too explosive for the home team. Houston (18-10, 9-6) drew into three ties in the second half: at 42-42, 48-48 and 50-50. Memphis simply zipped away every time.


First, there was a 6-0 spurt to take a 48-42 lead.


After the last tie at 50, Memphis went on a 13-4 run to seemingly put Houston away, 63-54. It would have been easy for Penders’ team to wither away and surrender to the Tigers’ will.


Houston refused to give up without a valiant fight. The Cougs got the deficit back down to 63-58 with 1:46 left in the game.


Tiger senior leader Robert Dozier came to the rescue down the stretch, scoring 11 of his 15 in the last 8:17 of the hard-fought matchup. He drained all five of his free throws over that span.


Shawn Taggart supported Evans and Dozier with 12 points and 10 rebounds.


In the end, it was a solid win in yet another hostile environment. It was also the type of game that other teams find ways to lose. Memphis, however, found ways to hang on to the win, for the 57th consecutive time against conference foes and the 21st straight time this season.


That should count for something.