FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Penny Hardaway and his Memphis Tigers left the court right after getting their American Athletic Conference trophy. Before cutting down the nets, they wanted to watch the NCAA Tournament selection show after leaving no doubt their team’s name would be called.
“To battle, fight, scratch all year long ... and to be here today with the same situation that we had last year, and to get the win, I’m very proud,” said Hardaway, the fifth-year Memphis coach who played in two NCAAs for the Tigers. “Emotional in a great way on getting a championship.”
Kendric Davis scored 31 points, including 14 in a big run before halftime, and the Tigers held on to beat short-handed No. 1 Houston 75-65 on Sunday for the AAC tournament title and league’s automatic NCAA bid.
DeAndre Williams had 16 points and 13 rebounds for Tigers (26-8), who are going to March Madness for the second year in a row. They made it last season even after a title game loss to the Cougars.
Houston (31-3) played without AAC player of the year Marcus Sasser, the senior guard who strained his groin in the first half of Saturday’s semifinal game.
“We work all year to, you know, make the NCAA Tournament. I don’t think I could have lived with myself had he played today and got hurt,” Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson said. “I didn’t see a limp, I didn’t say much to him. ... I knew in the back of my mind he wasn’t going to play.”
The Cougars were still given a No. 1 NCAA seed, their first since 1983 during the Phi Slama Jama era. They are in the Midwest Region and will play Northern Kentucky on Thursday in Birmingham, Alabama.
Memphis is the No. 8 seed in the East Region, and takes on Conference USA champion Florida Atlantic (31-3) on Friday in Columbus, Ohio.
J’Wan Roberts had 12 points and 20 rebounds for Houston, which moves to the Big 12 next season. Jamal Shead had 15 points on 3-of-14 shooting, and Jarace Walker had 13 points before fouling out.
The Cougars trailed by 18 at halftime, but got within 55-50 with 11:03 left after Shead scored eight points in a row for them in a two-minute span. But they got no closer.
Memphis had taken control with a 16-2 run in the first half. Davis had all but two of those points and made two 3-pointers only 9 seconds apart.
Davis had a fast-break layup with just under eight minutes left, and his second quick 3 came after Alex Lomax made a backcourt steal and passed it to him at the top of the key. The Tigers were up 40-20 when Davis made another fast-break layup with 3:36 left.
Davis, a first-year Tigers guard, is a senior transfer who spent the past three seasons at SMU after playing as a freshman at TCU in 2018-19.
“I wanted to be a part of you know what I’d seen coach building. I had a long nights questioning would I ever get there,” Davis said. “Being at SMU is hard, you’ve got to go through Memphis and you’ve got to go through Houston. ... (Hardaway) told me, we’re trying to win a championship just like you. And we’re sitting here today.”
Memphis: Hardaway played in the 1992 and 1993 NCAA Tournaments in his only two seasons as a player for the Tigers, and now has taken them to as many as a coach. He has 110 wins in his five seasons as Memphis’ coach. ... Memphis will make its 28th NCAA Tournament appearance.
Houston: The Cougars led only at 3-2 on a 3-pointer by Terrance Arecenaux before Williams responded with a 3 for Memphis. ... It was the first loss for Houston in 12 games at Dickies Arena. The Cougars had won the two AAC tournament titles there, and regular-season games each of the last three years.