Late Tiger surge thwarts Trojans’ upset bid

Little Rock Athletics
Rand Champion, Assistant Athletic Director for Communications

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Little Rock gave host Memphis everything it could handle on its home court, rallying back a handful of times and holding a lead in the waning minutes. But a final Tiger run over the final three minutes thwarted the Trojan upset attempt as Memphis defeats Little Rock 98-88 at the FedEx Forum.

The loss drops Little Rock to 5-7 on the year and 1-4 on the road this season. It also keeps the Trojans winless against the Tigers as Memphis has won all seven meetings between the two schools.

Both Little Rock and Memphis shot an even 50% from the floor with the Trojans hitting 42.3% of its three-point attempts, going 11-of-26 on the night, while limiting the Tigers to 37.5% (9-of-24).

But heading into the game, head coach Darrell Walker made an extra emphasis on two key areas that would decide the game – free throws and rebounding. After seeing an improvement from the line in recent games, Little Rock made just 18 of its 34 attempts (52.9%) and Memphis dominated on the boards, outrebounding the Trojans 49-23, including an 18-5 edge on the offensive glass.

The loss came despite Rayjon Tucker’s 29-point performance to lead all scorers, finishing 7-of-12 from the floor and 11-of-15 from the free throw line. Tucker has now scored in double figures in 11-straight games and surpassed the 20-point plateau for the sixth time, adding four rebounds and four assists.

Tucker was one of five Trojans to finish in double figures, followed by 14-point performances from both Nikola Maric and Jaizec Lottie. Maric went 6-for-11 from the floor with three rebounds while Lottie shot 5-for-7 with four rebounds, five assists and five steals.

Markquis Nowell added 13 points off the bench with a team-high seven rebounds with Kris Bankston adding 11 points, going 5-for-6 from the floor with five more dunks, upping his season total to 39.

Knowing it was facing a Memphis team that likes to push the tempo, Little Rock weathered the storm early, and was able to match the Tigers’ intensity. Memphis built a seven point lead early at 18-11, which was matched by an 11-0 run by Little Rock to take the 22-18, including a pair of threes from Nowell and another from Pippins.

Despite a significant outrebounding edge for the Tigers, Little Rock’s defense forced Memphis into tough shots as the Trojans responded on the other end. Little Rock led by four at 29-25, then held a three-point advantage at 31-28 with 6:35 remaining in the opening half.

But Memphis began its full court press and run-and-gun, outscoring the Trojans 20-4 over the next six minutes to flip the three-point deficit into a 48-35 Memphis advantage. Little Rock regained a little momentum, scoring the final two points of the final minute, trimming the halftime deficit to nine at 48-39.

Over the opening 20 minutes, Little Rock shot 46.7 percent from the floor and was 8-of-14 from the three-point line, but once again, free throws plagued the Trojans, connecting on just 3-of-9 (33.3%).

The run that closed the first half sparked the Trojans in the second half, who scored a pair of baskets in the opening minute of the second half to pull within five at 48-43.  Behind some big threes and key turnovers, Little Rock closed the gap to two at 52-50 with 17:51 to go off a breakaway dunk from Bankston.

After Memphis extended its lead back to seven at 62-55, Little Rock found its offensive surge. The Trojans used a 13-4 run, turning that seven point deficit to a two-point lead at 68-66 with just over 12 minutes to go, thanks to Bankston’s fourth dunk and a pair of free throws from Nowell.

Memphis once again fed off the home crowd, extending its lead to six on a pair of occasions, the last of which came at 77-71 with 8:21 remaining. But the Trojans responded yet again, rallying back to tie the game at 77-77 off a pair of free throws from Lottie, ultimately taking an 86-84 lead at the final media timeout off an and-one from Tucker.

But free throw and rebounding woes came back to haunt Little Rock one final time as the Trojans were unable to stop a final Tiger surge, watching as Memphis closed out the game on a 14-2 run over the final three minutes to hold off the Little Rock upset bid.

Little Rock’s road trip continues as the Trojans will depart Memphis and head to Washington D.C. for a showdown with Georgetown Saturday. Opening tip against the Hoyas will be at 11 a.m. CT and will stream live on the Fox Sports Go app.

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