ORLANDO, Fla. − The Memphis basketball team's lead was nine points with 4:11 left in regulation and the Tigers were up by five with 44 seconds on the clock.
But, UCF − backed by its small, but fervent, home crowd at Addition Financial Arena − was never out of it. The Knights needed two overtimes to outlast the Tigers 107-104. UCF (13-4, 4-1 AAC) withstood a career-high 42 points from Kendric Davis (tied for the fifth-most points in a game in program history) largely thanks to Ithiel Horton's 30 points, C.J. Kelly's 21 points and the team's 16 total three-pointers (which ties a school record).
The loss represents a missed opportunity for Memphis (12-5, 2-2) to atone for a New Year's Day road loss at Tulane. Following that setback, the Tigers started slipping in most national bracketologists' NCAA Tournament projections. While a loss to UCF won't be as damaging, it was a chance for Memphis to get off the bubble. Instead, the Tigers will have a lot of work to do down the stretch. It begins at Temple on Sunday (2 p.m., ESPN2).
The Knights clawed their way back into it, getting a 3-pointer from Horton that tied the game 78-78 with 16 seconds left and sent it into overtime. Horton buried another triple with less than a minute left in the first extra period that put the home team up by five. But Davis completed a 3-point play to make it a two-point game, then Keontè Kennedy's fast-break dunk with under 10 seconds left in the first overtime tied things up again and sent the game into a second overtime.
Memphis, trailing by three with less than 20 seconds to play, had multiple looks beyond the arc. But each one came up empty, and the final failed attempt set off a wild celebration on UCF's home court.
Elijah McCadden contributed a season-high 18 points for Memphis, while Kennedy put up 14 and DeAndre Williams dropped 10.
Here are four takeaways from Wednesday's game:
Tigers on the run
Basketball is a game of runs.
— Memphis Basketball (@Memphis_MBB) January 12, 2023
The Tigers know that as well as any team. Just last week, they rattled off a 22-0 run in the second half to dig out of an early hole against ECU to avoid an ugly home loss.
Memphis was back at it Wednesday. The Tigers used a 17-5 first-half run to erase UCF’s early advantage. Then, they got back to it early in the second half. Down 42-40 at intermission, Hardaway’s club stormed out of the gate. Early 3-pointers from Williams and Lomax gave Memphis a spark and doubled its long-distance total from the first half.
MEMPHIS BASKETBALL VS. UCF: Scouting report, score prediction
By the time the Tigers were done, they had scored 16 unanswered and taken a 56-42 lead.
Same story, different day
It’s a tale almost as old as the veteran roster: Memphis has struggled all season long to consistently defend without fouling. Hardaway’s squad came into the game ranked 266th in the country in opponents’ free-throw rate. The Tigers were averaging 18.7 personal fouls per game and 21.9% of their opponents’ points prior to facing UCF came at the free-throw line.
The Tigers could only blame themselves for the staggering 13-point hole Memphis found itself in virtually immediately. Williams picked up two fouls before the game was four minutes old. Lomax, too, was whistled for two early in the first half.
Despite that early barrage of fouls, the Tigers settled down and found their groove in the second half. But the problems came back late as Williams and Kennedy both fouled out. Alex Lomax also suffered a groin injury late that exacerbated the issue.
"Alex looks bad right now. That didn't look well to me when he pulled up, because he was running full speed," Hardaway said. "I just feel bad for him, because this last year he wanted to stay healthy."
During his postgame radio interview, Hardaway told the broadcast crew Lomax was unlikely to play Sunday versus Temple.
Elijah McCadden, Keontè Kennedy step up
The Knights, with their hot start, had the Tigers reeling – firmly on their heels.
Memphis needed someone (or, multiple players) to step up and steady the ship. Those Tigers emerged in the forms of Kennedy and McCadden. The fourth- and ninth-leading scorers on the team coming into Wednesday’s matchup, the UTEP and Georgia Southern transfers stepped up in big ways.
Kennedy scored 9 of his 12 points in the first half, while McCadden put up eight of his own in the first 20 minutes.
Two short-handed teams
There wasn’t much surprise that Memphis was missing Jayden Hardaway (hip) and Malcolm Dandridge (ankle). Hardaway sat for the second game in a row, while Dandridge missed his sixth straight.
UCF coach Johnny Dawkins was also struggling with numbers, though. The Knights learned earlier this week that second-leading scorer Darius Johnson (also, the team’s top assist man and leader in steals) would miss the game against Memphis. Shortly before tip-off, it was announced a second UCF starter would be sidelined. Center Michael Durr is dealing with a thumb injury that will reportedly require surgery to repair.
Reach sports writer Jason Munz at email@example.com or on Twitter @munzly.
Kao finishes one at the rim, then KD turns defense into offense!
11:10 1H | UCF 21, MEM 15 pic.twitter.com/GQAJfbMfUa
— Memphis Basketball (@Memphis_MBB) January 12, 2023
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis basketball: UCF outlasts Tigers in double-overtime thriller