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UCF eliminates Tigers in AAC tourney quarterfinals

Jason Smith
March 10, 2017 - 10:04 am
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By Jason Smith
Jason.Smith@entercom.com

The University of Memphis' first season under coach Tubby Smith came to an embarrassing end Friday as the fifth-seeded Tigers were trampled 84-54 by fourth-seeded UCF in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament in Hartford, Conn.

A 2016-17 season that saw the Tigers win 15 of their first 20 games quickly turned sour with Memphis dropping eight of its last 12.

The final two of those losses - at SMU last Saturday and against UCF on Friday - came by a combined 71 points.

Sophomore forward Dedric Lawson had 12 points and 9 rebounds to lead Memphis (19-13) in what I expect to be his final game in a Tigers uniform. I reported last month that multiple sources have told me Lawson plans to forgo his final two years of college eligibility and turn pro, though Lawson has said publicly he'll make the decision after the season.

Six days after allowing SMU to shoot 60.7 percent in a 103-62 shellacking in Dallas in its regular-season finale, Memphis let UCF (21-10) make 14-of-26 3-point attempts and shoot 54.4 percent overall.

The great effort, grit and game-to-game improvement this team showed over the first two months of the season devolved into a mess of poor execution and monster scoring runs by opponents over the team's final 12 games.

If Smith and the team were on the same page over the final third of the season, it certainly didn't look like it on the court. Yes, Memphis was thin on bodies and its key players logged heavy minutes this season, and that surely had some effect on how it played over the final third of the season.

But let's be real: This team was checked out. How else do you explain losing by a combined 71(!) points over your final two games? That's on Smith, who's getting paid big bucks to keep his teams checked in.

So as much as Smith might want to point at the Tigers' fifth-place finish in AAC play and say the team met expectations in his first season since it was picked to finish fifth in the league, with all due respect to him, that's not good enough. This team had enough talent to finish higher than it did in a watered down AAC this season. And with a future Hall of Fame coach, I expected better.
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