MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Will Coleman scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds and the Memphis defense clamped down on Tulsa’s leading scorers, helping the Tigers to a 75-53 victory over the Golden Hurricane on Saturday.
Doneal Mack added 14 points for Memphis (23-8, 13-3 Conference USA). The senior, playing in his final home game, left late in the second half to a standing ovation, leaning down to kiss the tiger at midcourt as he departed.
“It was basically me just saying thank you to the fans, the city, the program,” Mack said of the gesture. “Everybody who encouraged me throughout this year. Me and (fellow senior Willie Kemp) persevered through these four years. And we’re the last two standing.”
Angel Garcia and Wesley Witherspoon finished with 11 each, while Elliot Williams scored 10.
Jerome Jordan led Tulsa (21-10, 10-6) with 19 points, while Bishop Wheatley scored 12 — all in the first half.
The Memphis defense held Tulsa to 40.4 percent shooting (21 of 52). The Golden Hurricane were 1 of 10 (10 percent) from outside the arc. Ben Uzoh, Tulsa’s leading scorer at 15.7, was limited to six points, attempting only five shots in the game.
The Memphis defensive strategy was to keep the ball out of Uzoh’s hands, forcing other Tulsa players to make plays.
“That’s their best player,” said Kemp, who had the defensive duty on Uzoh. “I just tried to contain him and not let him get that many open looks.”
Most of Jordan’s points came in the second half after Memphis already held a 20-point advantage.
Tulsa’s third-leading scorer, Justin Hurtt (14.2 points), scored only four points, missing seven of his eight shots.
“Our game plan didn’t work,” Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik said. “They made shots. It was really the tempo we wanted. Our offense was inept. Defensively, they really took Ben Uzoh out of the game.”
Memphis was already leading by double digits in the second half when the Tigers went on an 11-0 run to extend the lead past 20. From there, Memphis coasted to its 12th straight win over the Golden Hurricane, who has not defeated the Tigers since March 27, 2001.
Memphis led 30-19 at halftime behind a defense that kept Uzoh, Jordan and Hurtt in check.
“That was the main focus,” Mack said. “If we were going to get beat, we were going to get beat by the other players. We didn’t want Uzoh to get off, or Hurtt to start making 3s. Even Jordan, we didn’t want him to get off. We were focusing on those three really.”
That approach worked, except Wheatley was holding up his end of the challenge. The bulk of the Tulsa offense was Wheatley, who had 12 points at the break.
Tulsa misfired on nine of its first 10 shots and the shooting woes continued through much of the half. At one point late in the first half, Wheatley had hit six of his seven shots, but the rest of the team was 1-of-15, a dunk by Jordan.
“We really limited those three guys,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “We were able to neutralize them.”
Memphis continued to build the advantage in the opening stages of the second half. The string of 11 straight gave the Tigers their biggest lead at the time, 48-25 on Garcia’s 3-pointer with 13:27 left.
Memphis already had solidified the second seed in next week’s C-USA tournament at Tulsa. But the victory gave Pastner an opportunity to plead the Tigers’ case for an NCAA bid.
“I think, right now, we’re one of the 65 best teams. I believe that,” Pastner said. “But, I also know that we are not a team that can just show up. So we have to be absolutely, really good.
“We are not a team that can play for 30 minutes. If we play for 40 minutes, we’ve got a chance.”