Wichita State basketball fails to protect another double-digit lead; Memphis wins late

Wichita State’s Colby Rogers attempts a 3-pointer against Memphis in Saturday afternoon’s game at FedExForum.
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The past two months have forced the Wichita State men’s basketball team to endure constant adversity.

Every loss has hurt, but Saturday’s 65-63 loss to Memphis at the FedExForum was the biggest gut punch of them all.

The Shockers led for nearly 38 minutes and by as many as 14 points with less than eight minutes to go, but lost in regulation when Memphis star David Jones drilled a 15-foot jumper for the game-winner with 2.8 seconds remaining.

A disappointing season added another heartbreaking chapter, as WSU (9-13, 1-8 AAC) lost its sixth game in American Athletic Conference play where it was a one-possession game in the final four minutes.

“It hurts because we know we are right there and we can compete with these teams,” WSU forward Ronnie DeGray III said. “We just have to figure out how we can finish games. But today really hurts.”

Memphis (16-6, 5-4 AAC) looked to be spiraling toward a fifth straight loss with any hope of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament gone, but Jones rallied the Tigers to yet another win over the Shockers. Memphis is 10-1 against WSU during the Penny Hardaway era with a perfect record on its home floor.

Jones scored 16 of his game-high 26 points during Memphis’ 25-9 blitz in the final eight minutes to close out the game. Harlond Beverly’s heave from half-court missed the mark at the buzzer.

“We knew what’s at stake,” Memphis guard Jahvon Quinerly said. “This is a team that can make a run in the NCAA Tournament. Losing this game, it would have put us in a real hole. I think the guys knew what was at stake.”

It was more of the same from WSU, which made slight mistake after another that steadily formed into a snowball of disaster.

Fouling a 3-point shooter, lapses in pick-and-roll coverage, uncontested misses at the rim, misses at the foul line and late defensive rotations haunted the Shockers down the stretch.

But what made the final result even more gut-wrenching was that even with all of that, WSU still led 62-58 entering the final 70 seconds after Colby Rogers hit a go-ahead jumper, then emerged with a loose ball and hit Beverly deep for a breakaway score.

“Felt like we weathered the storm, but we’ve got to think about the next best thing to do and that was to get a stop,” said Rogers, who had a team-high 19 points and four assists. “Unfortunately, we didn’t do a good job of that.”

WSU fouled Jones on the next possession, then after Beverly came up empty at the rim, Memphis took the lead on a 3-pointer by Quinerly, who was 0-for-12 from the field before the shot.

WSU managed to tie the game when DeGray, who finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and two steals, came up with an offensive rebound and was fouled with 16.4 seconds left. He made the first to tie, but left the second short to set up Jones’ game-winner. WSU missed three of four free throws in the final three minutes.

“When you go 1-of-4 from the free-throw line late, that’s always tough,” WSU coach Paul Mills said. “And then you had some finishes, you can’t shoot 34% from 2. We were getting shots around the rim, we’ve just got to be able to convert more than one out of three on those. Those little things add up.”

WSU’s defense registered just two stops in the final eight minutes, as Memphis pumped out 25 points on its last 12 possessions.

It was the second straight road game where WSU failed to close out a win in which it had a double-digit, second-half lead.

“We only activate when we get down,” Hardaway said. “You saw a top-10 team in the country in the last eight minutes.

“We’re very capable, but it can’t be optional. It has to be mandatory every time. I saw it and it’s like, ‘Wow, why can’t we do this the entire game?’”

After a choppy first half left WSU holding a 30-24 halftime advantage, the team appeared to kick its post-halftime problem — even with three straight turnovers to open the second half. WSU finished with just five turnovers, its second-lowest amount of the season.

With the Tigers on the verge of taking the lead, the shot-making of Rogers kept the Shockers afloat. WSU’s leading scorer drilled a pair of contested 3s to hold off Memphis’ rally and stabilize the Shockers.

WSU then stunned the home crowd with a 7-0 spurt, capped by a fast-break score by DeGray to open up a 48-37 lead and forcing Hardaway to burn a timeout.

The break didn’t slow down WSU, as Xavier Bell scored another fast-break layup, Quincy Ballard added another score inside and Dalen Ridgnal swished a pair of free throws to cap a 13-3 run to extend WSU’s lead to 54-40 with 7:55 left.

But in the end, it wasn’t enough for the Shockers to score their first road conference win.

“It happens,” Mills said. “That’s the game of basketball. You’re going to be on the wrong end of these kind of games throughout your career and you’re going to be on the right end. I can assure you everybody in that locker room wanted to win. We’ve just got to be able to convert on our chances and unfortunately we weren’t able to.”