Memphis hangs on for 4th straight win, 83-79 over UConn
STORRS, Conn. (AP) Tubby Smith isn’t happy about losing the American Athletic Conference’s leading scorer to a broken foot, but likes the way his Memphis Tigers have responded to Jeremiah Martin’s season-ending injury.
Raynere Thornton added 16 points for Memphis (18-11, 9-7 American), which played its first full game without Martin, who broke his left foot against Houston on Thursday.
”That can be a very galvanizing thing,” Smith said. ”Everyone will kind of rally around and pull together more with adversity or when someone’s hurt.”
Jalen Adams scored 25 points and Christian Vital had 19 for UConn (13-16, 6-10 American), which has lost seven of its last nine games.
Memphis led by 10 at halftime and stretched it to 23 with a layup by Mike Nickelberry that made it 61-38 midway through the second half.
”I thought we just stopped playing for a stretch,” said UConn coach Kevin Ollie. ”We went on a drought there where we didn’t score.”
But UConn turned up the pressure, and began chipping away. A 3-point shot by Adams, who had 21 points in the second half, cut the lead to single digits at 73-64 with just over three minutes left.
A layup by Adams made it 81-77 with seven seconds to go, but Kareem Brewton Jr. (12 points, seven assists) hit a pair of foul shots at the other end to seal the win.
”It hurts not having our team captain with us,” said Johnson. ”But we pulled it out. We played hard together and we got the win.”
Memphis: Martin will undergo surgery Tuesday. He is expected to be out six to eight months. The 6-foot-3 sophomore was averaging 18.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists and a league-best 2.3 steals per game.
UConn: The Huskies have just two regular-season games and the conference tournament to avoid a second straight losing season, after going 30 years without one.
”We know what we’ve got to do going forward,” Adams said. ”We know we’ve got to go down and have a big three or four games in Orlando to try and win the conference (tournament) and get into the (NCAA) tournament.”
TURNING IT ON
UConn led 23-13 early after an Antwoine Anderson 3-pointer that capped a 12-0 Husky run.
But Memphis, who won the first meeting between the two teams by 24 points, responded with an 18-3 run to take control.
Johnson and Thornton were a combined 6 of 8 from 3-point range in the first half 9 of 12 for the game and the Tigers led 41-31 at intermission. They quickly extended that after the break. A free throw by Johnson with just over 12 minutes left, following a UConn lane violation, gave the Tigers their first 20-point lead at 56-36, and Nickleberry’s layup pushed the lead to 23.
”I just think we were moving the ball real well, we were screening well,” said Johnson. ”We got a lot of people open and they helped in the wrong areas, so we were able to capitalize on their mistakes.”
FINDING HIS STROKE
Thornton, who came in averaging under five points per game, made five of his seven shots, all of them from behind the arc. The 6-foot-7 junior-college transfer was coming off a career-high 21 points against Houston.
”(It’s) confidence,” he said. ”Just getting in the gym after practice and (my teammates) believing in me and passing me the ball. So I shoot it.”
Memphis: The Tigers will play their final two regular-season games at home. They host South Florida on Thursday and East Carolina next Sunday.
UConn: The Huskies host Temple on Wednesday, then close the regular season at Houston next Sunday.
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