ORLANDO, FL (WMC) - The University of Memphis held on to beat South Florida 79-77 in the first round of the American Athletic Conference Tournament on Thursday.
Kyvon Davenport paced the Tigers--who've won six of their last seven games--in scoring, finishing with 27 points and nine rebounds while also chipping in defensively with a pair of steals and blocks.
The Tigers opened up a 12-point lead in the first half behind David Nickelberry, who scored 12 of his 14 in the first to give Memphis a 38-29 lead at halftime.
Memphis continued to roll early in the second half.
Kareem Brewton's layup less than a minute after halftime extended the Tigers lead to double digits. Brewton finished with 12 points on 3/4 shooting from three.
Davenport split a pair of free throws with 8:39 remaining in the game to give Memphis a 68-53 lead--its largest of the game.
South Florida would close the game on a 24-11 run, but a pair of Malik Rhodes free throws--his only points of the game--with 26 seconds left stretched the Tigers lead to six, which proved insurmountable for USF.
After the game, questions directed at Memphis head coach Tubby Smith had more to do with his job security than the on-court play of his team.
"Yeah, I feel pretty comfortable," Smith said when asked if he felt he had the support of the administration. "Pretty confident about what we've done this year, and how we're growing the program, and the type of young men that we're recruiting."
Rumors of former Memphis and NBA player Penny Hardaway taking over as head coach for Smith next season have surfaced in recent days.
Thursday's win over South Florida was Memphis' 20th of the season, marking the first 20-win season since 2013-14--the last time the Tigers made the NCAA Tournament.
Memphis will play Tulsa in the quarterfinals of the AAC Tournament on Friday at 2 p.m. The two teams split the season series with each team winning at on their home court.