FORT WORTH, Texas — Justin Gorham scored 15 points, including four free throws in the final 27 seconds, and No. 7 Houston beat Memphis 76-74 on Saturday to advance to its third consecutive American Athletic Conference Tournament final.
Boogie Ellis had 27 points for Memphis, but he had a huge turnover with 49 seconds left. He fell down with the ball when trying to respond to the Gorham’s nifty one-handed reverse layup with just over a minute left that had put the Cougars up 72-71.
Gorham added two free throws with 27 seconds left, and two more with 4 seconds left. Ellis made a running 3-pointer just before the final buzzer.
Quentin Grimes had 21 points with five 3-pointers for Houston (23-3), which is already a lock for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Marcus Sasser had 14 points, and DeJon Jarreau finished with 11.
DeAndre Williams had 16 points for Memphis (16-8), an NCAA bubble team which overcame a 12-point halftime deficit and took the lead late. D.J. Jeffries had 10 points.
The Cougars are looking for their first conference tournament title since 2010 in Conference USA when Tom Penders was their coach. They play Sunday against fifth-seeded Cincinnati, which beat regular-season champion Wichita State 60-59 in Saturday’s other AAC semifinal.
Cincinnati won the last two AAC title championship games over Houston, 69-57 in 2019 and 56-55 in 2018. Last year’s tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Williams had 10 points when Memphis opened the second half with a 17-5 run, getting even at 46-all on his jumper with 10:45 left that ended his personal 6-0 run.
Grimes had a fast-break dunk with 17 minutes left, but the Cougars missed seven shots in a row until Grimes made a 3-pointer with 8:55 left, right after Ellis made a 3. Ellis and Grimes traded quick 3-pointers again only a couple of minutes later.
Memphis: The Tigers were again without guard Alex Lomax because of a left ankle injury. Memphis is in its third season under coach Penny Hardaway and hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2014. It was the second time in seven days that the Tigers fell just short against Houston. They got even at 1.7 seconds left in Houston last Sunday before the Cougars banked in a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
Houston: The Cougars converted eight Memphis turnovers into 14 points before halftime, the last on a buzzer-beating breakaway dunk by Grimes after he stole the ball from Ellis. … Houston had an early 11-0 run bookended by a pair of 3-pointers by Sasser.
The AAC championship game Sunday in only the second meeting this season between the teams. Houston beat the Bearcats 90-52 at home on Feb. 21.