FORT WORTH, Texas ( Associated Press) — Fabian White Jr. scored 20 points, fellow big man Josh Carlton had 18 and 18th-ranked Houston beat Memphis 71-53 in the American Athletic Conference championship game Sunday.
A day after White played less than three minutes in the Cougars’ semifinal win because of back tightness, the first-team All-AAC forward helped the top-seeded Cougars (29-5) earn the AAC’s automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.
Memphis (21-10) had to wait for the NCAA selection show that started about a half-hour after the game ended to find out for sure it would make the tournament for the first time since 2014. The third-seeded Tigers have won 12 of their last 14 games, and beat Houston by double figures in both of their regular-season games.
Tigers center Jalen Duren, a 6-foot-11 freshman who was a first-team All-AAC pick, had 14 points and 10 rebounds. DeAndre Williams had 10 points.
Taze Moore had 11 points and eight assists for Houston, and Jamal Shead scored 10 points. Kyler Edwards had eight points, 11 rebounds and five assists.
Duren also had limited time in the semifinal round, playing 17 minutes in a win over SMU. He got two fouls in the first 3 1/2 minutes of the game, and didn’t return until after halftime, when he exited for 6 1/2 minutes after falling hard to the floor after blocking a shot.
The Tigers, after trailing by as many as 15 points in the second half, closed to 51-47 on Duren’s emphatic two-handed dunk with 6:55 left. They never got closer.
Carlton had a three-point play on a slam dunk while being fouled after a nice pass from Moore. Shead then had a hustle play to force a turnover when Memphis had a breakaway chance, and White hit two free throws after a hard tumble when the upper half of his body ended up under the scoring table.
White took a shot to the mouth when fouled in the opening part of the second half. But his jumper right after that ignited a quick 8-0 run in which he also had a layup between Shead making two impressive plays. Shead had a basket high off the glass, then a rebound and a long pass ahead to a breaking Edwards for a dunk.
Memphis: After missing the NCAA tourney last year, when they lost to Houston 76-74 in the AAC tournament semifinals, the Tigers went on to win the NIT championship. … Memphis has won at least 20 games in all four seasons under coach Penny Hardaway, who played in NCAA Tournaments in 1992 and 1993 in his only seasons playing for the Tigers before an NBA career than ended in 2008. … The Tigers ‘ only other loss the past 14 games was to SMU, which they beat in the AAC Tournament semifinals.
Houston: The Cougars already have one more win than last season, when they won their first AAC tournament championship and then went to their first NCAA Final Four since 1984.
Memphis guard Alex Lomax was called for a flagrant foul after hard contact sent Shead sprawling to the floor with 2:10 left when he was driving toward the basket after a steal by Edwards. Shead jumped up and held up his hand to let his teammates know he was OK, and to ease tensions. Carlton and other teammates hugged Shead as they fired up their fans behind the bench. After referees reviewed the play, Lomax hugged Shead and went to the sideline to shake the hand of Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson.
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