Memphis falls 87-78 to No. 6 Louisville

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Josh Pastner and his Memphis Tigers almost broke their three-plus year winless streak against ranked teams.

In the final 12 minutes, No. 6 Louisville leaned on Chane Behanan, while the Tigers didn’t have anyone step up for them in losing 87-78 to the Cardinals on Saturday.

“We had the game,” Memphis junior guard Joe Jackson said. “It’s just going to take (our effort) the first 20 minutes (for) the whole game to beat a Final Four team. And (if) we want to go far like we want to go, we have to learn how to beat these type of teams.”

For Pastner, the loss stretched his winless streak against Top 25 teams to 11 — a mark Memphis fans and critics remind him of constantly.

Memphis (6-3) looked ready to hand Pastner his signature win leading 54-44 with 12:26 to play when Geron Johnson converted a steal into a dunk.

From there, the Cardinals erased the lead with a 13-0 run keyed with Louisville connecting on 3-pointers. Luke Hancock had a pair of 3s, and Behanan added one from the right wing.

“I thought we had a chance to win the game,” Pastner said. “We had a 10-point lead, and they hit three back-to-back-to-back threes. We were in a zone to protect our foul trouble. They were 1 of 8 in the first half from three, and they hadn’t shot well from three all year long. We have to give them credit for making them.”

Memphis wound up with 33 fouls compared to 20 called against Louisville (9-1). While a half dozen of the fouls came in the final minute as Memphis tried to cut into the Cardinals’ lead, five Tigers eventually fouled out.

This was the first game that has happened since Seattle had five disqualified against Washington in regulation on Jan. 10, according to STATS LLC.

Pastner addressed the foul situation after the game.

“Per Conference USA and out of respect to the university, staying professional and doing things right and being a leader to our young men, I can’t comment on officials or anything on that,” Pastner said.

But Pastner noted he already had received text messages “and this and that” after the game about the officiating.

Behanan scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half, and Russ Smith had 13 of his 19 points in the final 20 minutes after hurting his left ankle so badly in the first half he couldn’t put any weight on it as he was helped to the bench. Peyton Siva added 19 points, and Hancock had 11.

Behanan isn’t talking to the media this semester under team discipline, but Smith said Pitino made sure they found the big sophomore in the final 20 minutes.

“We made an effort to try and come down and give him the rock every time possible,” Smith said. “I think we did a pretty good job with that.”

Jackson led Memphis with 23 points and eight assists, and Tarik Black added 21 points. Johnson added 12 and D.J. Stephens 10.

These teams have been rivals for decades dating to when both belonged to the Missouri Valley Conference, then the Metro Conference and most recently Conference USA between 1995 and 2005.

They’re due to be back in the same league starting in July for at least a season in the Big East, if Louisville doesn’t bolt early for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Memphis called for a “blue-out”, and fans responded. They also spent much of the game on their feet, booing or cheering every call and basket.

The foul disparity was such that fans stood and cheered the Big East officiating crew derisively when Hancock was called for a foul with more than 6 minutes left.

Jackson said he could feel the difference from the crowd.

“You made a big shot, they erupt,” Jackson said.

The Tigers outshot Louisville 51.8 percent (29 of 56) to 42 percent (21 of 50) and outrebounded the Cardinals (34-28). They just couldn’t overcome the difference at the free throw line and finish off a big win.

The Tigers could get no closer than five in the final minute as Louisville sealed the win by hitting 10 of 12 at the free throw line down the stretch.

“This was as good a crowd as we’ve played in in quite some time,” Pitino said of a near sellout with 18,392 in FedExForum. “It will rival any Big East crowd, certainly. Great arena, great fans, great crowd. We had to battle all the elements to get a victory and we did.”