With teammates Quenton DeCosey and Devin Coleman standing in-front of him, Josh Brown stood on the cherry logo the center of the Liacouras Center with his hands up in the air.
The trio came together, celebrating a 3-pointer from Coleman with one minute, 35 seconds remaining to halt Memphis’ second-half comeback in the Owls’ 72-62 win on senior night Thursday.
“Knowing it’s going to be your last moment at the Liacouras Center, it just becomes surreal,” said DeCosey, a senior guard. “You know how fast it went by, and you cherish the moment.”
With the win, the Owls clinched the No. 1 seed in the American Athletic Conference Tournament, which begins March 10 in Orlando, Florida. The Owls’ first game will be March 11 at noon.
“It means a lot, but we got a lot more work to do,” Brown, a junior guard, said of the No. 1 seed. “We’re not settling for the No. 1 seed. We’re just going to continue to win games to make our bid for the tournament.”
In the team’s 67-65 loss to the Tigers on Jan. 13, the Owls missed eight of their final 10 shots from the floor as Memphis came back from an 11-point deficit to win the game on a pair of last-second free throws.
On Thursday, Memphis used an 18-8 run to cut the Owls’ 13-point second-half lead to three, 60-57, after a 3-pointer from Tigers’ junior guard Avery Woodson with 4:33 remaining in the second half.
Sophomore forward Obi Enechionyia drove right converted a two-handed dunk on the Owls’ next possession, and Coleman knocked down a 3-pointer two minutes later to put the Owls up seven.
“He has a lot of confidence in himself, which is all that matters,” coach Fran Dunphy said of Coleman’s shot. “I think we give a lot of freedom to our guys … When he shot it, I was not surprised when it went in.”
DeCosey said the Tigers’ comeback in the last game was in his mind as Memphis trimmed the Owls’ lead.
“We just had to get together and keep trusting each other down the stretch,” DeCosey said. “Dev hit a big shot that put us up seven, so we just had to keep battling to close out.”
The Owls had five scorers in double figures, including Brown, who scored 12 points, dished out eight assists and added seven rebounds. It was the sophomore guard’s 10th game this season totaling six or more assists.
Brown did not turn the ball over on Thursday and has five turnovers in the last seven games. The Owls came into Thursday’s game ranked No. 1 in Division I in fewest turnovers per game.
“I just know if we don’t turn over the ball, we don’t hurt ourselves and doing that helps us,” Brown said. “It’s a mixture of trying to be aggressive without being passive.”
Senior Devontae Watson scored the first points of the game on a dunk 32 seconds into the game. The basket counted for his first points of the season.
Thursday was also the fifth time the senior played more than five minutes in a game this season. Coming into the game, Watson totaled 42 minutes.
“I’ll basically talk about Devontae because of how difficult this year has been for him, and he’s kind of hung and he’s stayed the course,” Dunphy said. “He’s the first guy after the game shaking my hand, congrats and all this stuff and he didn’t get a chance to play that much.”
In their final regular-season game at the Liacouras Center, DeCosey, Watson, Coleman and Jaylen Bond combined for 42 points and 19 rebounds. Bond had 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Michael Guise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Michael_Gusie