Houston coach James Dickey thought his team just didn't have the answers when it counted against nationally-ranked Memphis.
Joseph Young scored 22 points for Houston, TaShawn Thomas added 20, but a late rally wasn't enough as the Cougars lost 81-74 to No. 21 Memphis on Wednesday night.
"Joseph and TaShawn had good games, and I was pleased with their effort," Dickey said. "We were careless with the ball in the first half, and you can't do that on the road in a conference game."
Danuel House scored 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting as Houston lost its second straight and third in the last four.
For Houston (15-10, 4-8 Conference USA), the struggles were on the boards, where Memphis outrebounded the Cougars 40-25, including 13 offensive rebounds leading to 18 second-chance points. Memphis also scored 10 points off the Cougars' 11 turnovers.
"Memphis is good enough you can't give them 10 points off turnovers and 18 second-chance points," Dickey said.
Meanwhile, Memphis keeps rolling up wins and spreading the credit among a cast of players.
Five players scored in double figures, including guard Chris Crawford finishing one assist shy of a triple-double as the Tigers won their 17th straight. And as Memphis coach Josh Pastner is prone to say, the Tiger caravan keeps moving on.
"All I know is it's a win, and a win is great," Pastner said. "All wins are great. Seventeen in a row. Don't take it for granted. It's not easy to do."
Adonis Thomas scored 22 points to lead the handful of Memphis double-figure scorers, while Crawford had 11 points, a career-high 13 rebounds and nine assists. Thomas also had eight rebounds as the Tigers (23-3, 12-0 Conference USA) held on through a final flurry by the Cougars.
Tarik Black scored 15 points, while D. J. Stephens had 14 points and 10 rebounds for Memphis. Joe Jackson also scored 11 points with six assists.
It marked Thomas' fifth straight game in double figures, a span in which he is averaging 17.4 points.
"Just having that confidence, seeing those shots going down," Thomas said of his recent offensive play. "Early in the season, I missed some shots, and I got down on myself because I knew how hard I worked on it. ...Seeing those shots go down is giving me a lot of confidence."
The Tigers finished the night shooting 54 percent, including 57 percent in the second half. Besides Stephens missing only one of his seven shots, Black was 7 of 9 from the field.
However, Houston also caused 19 Tigers turnovers, leading to 26 points and keeping the Cougars in the game down the stretch.
House and Thomas teamed to rally Houston back into the game early in the second half. The pair accounted for 10 straight Houston points to pull even at 41 before the first media timeout.
Black took over at that point, scoring six straight points for the Tigers as Memphis retook the lead, reaching 59-49 with 10:41 left when Black converted a three-point play.
That started a stretch of eight straight points for the Tigers, pushing the lead to 15 points, a margin later matched near the 3-minute mark as Crawford converted a 3-pointer.
"I thought Tarik Black gave us really good minutes in that stretch when we were struggling a little bit offensively," Pastner said. "He came through for us."
But Houston then turned up the defensive pressure, while Young and Thomas were scoring. Young had 7 points in the final 2 minutes. But that wasn't enough as the Cougars couldn't overtake the Tigers only getting as close as 75-69 on Thomas' dunk with just under a minute to play.
"It wasn't a problem for us offensively," Pastner said. "We scored 81 points. "We didn't get stops. A team shoots 47 percent from the field, 46 (percent) from the 3. That had nothing to do with our offense. It was straight defense. Our defense stunk. We didn't guard."
Dickey agreed that Black's play in the post and Thomas's play for the Tigers were major differences.
"When we got close in the second half, they jammed it inside to Black, and we didn't have an answer for him," Dickey said. "(Thomas) took over in the second half."