AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Entering the NCAA tournament, Memphis trailed only Gonzaga in wins.
After the sixth-seeded Tigers were eliminated by a 70-48 loss to Michigan State on Saturday, they remained among the most confident schools in the nation.
"We know we have one of the best teams in the country," Memphis forward D.J. Stephens said. "We should have never lost this game. We just let ourselves down."
The Tigers (31-5) advanced in the NCAA tournament for the first time in Josh Pastner's four seasons. The Conference USA champions are headed home because they struggled to stop Gary Harris on the outside or his teammates inside all afternoon.
Gary Harris scored 16 of his career-high 23 points in the first half, and post players Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix combined for 27 points and 18 rebounds.
Michigan State (27-8) earned a spot in the round of 16 for the fifth time in six years by outscoring Memphis 38-19 in the second half. The Spartans will play the winner of Sunday's Duke-Creighton game on Friday in the Midwest Regional semifinals at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
"No disrespect, but we know that we are a better team than Michigan State," Stephens said after scoring three points, grabbing six rebounds and blocking four shots. "We just gave this game away."
Memphis' Geron Johnson scored 13 of his 16 points in the first half, and Joe Jackson finished with 12 points, seven rebounds, five turnovers and three assists.
Adonis Thomas was held to five points — seven below his average — on 2-of-6 shooting and like Stephens, he was very disappointed with being eliminated in the round of 32.
"This was a year where we should have gone all the way," Thomas said. "We knew that, but we didn't play well. We weren't hitting shots like we normally do, and they did a good job of taking away our 3-pointers. We'll get more chances, but I feel bad for the seniors, because this is it for them."
Thomas, an NBA prospect, changed the subject when asked if he was coming back next year for his junior season.
Michigan State led by as much as 13 in the first half, creating that cushion when Harris made his fifth shot — and fourth 3-pointer — with 7:59 left.
The Tigers bounced back after taking the first punch, responding with a 12-2 run to pull within three points. They trailed 32-29 at halftime.
But Memphis fell off the pace in the second half because it was overmatched physically by a Big Ten power after going undefeated during its regular season in Conference USA and winning the conference tournament.
Unlike his players, Pastner said there was no shame in losing to the Spartans.
"They're good enough to win the whole national championship," he said.
Michigan State was able to force the Tigers into a half-court game and they struggled against the Spartans' in-your-face defense, making just 29.7 percent of their shots.
"We didn't do a good job in this game on pushing the ball," Pastner said. "(Instead of) throwing it ahead and speed dribbling it up, we walked it up a lot of times."
Michigan State also outrebounded them by 20 — a part of the game Pastner was worried about for good reason — and turned 14 offensive rebounds into 22 second-chance points.
"They got a plus 46 in two games in the NCAA tournament on rebounding — plus 46," Pastner said, including Michigan State's opening win over Valparaiso. "That's their game. They're terrific at that. They're probably the best in the country at offensive boards."
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