CINCINNATI – Geron Johnson and the rest of the 19th-ranked Tigers headed for their bus parked at the loading dock behind the Cintas Center, saying little as they got ready for a long ride home on a cold, rainy night.
A late out-of-conference loss had just put a dent in Memphis' season.
Short-handed Xavier dominated the first half, blew a 13-point lead, then recovered for a 64-62 victory Tuesday night that snapped Memphis' 18-game winning streak, which was tied for longest in the nation.
The Tigers (24-4) came away with their first loss on the road in more than a year. With one bad night, they also had a few new questions about themselves.
How could this happen?
"It's very weird," said Johnson, who scored a team-high 14 points and led a second-half comeback. "I don't know what to think right now. On our quiet bus ride home, it's going to hit me."
Memphis came into the game tied with Akron for the longest winning streak in the nation. Like the Zips, they'd done it by dominating their conference. Memphis had pulled away from the rest of Conference USA, winning every game since an 87-78 loss to Louisville on Dec. 15.
The Tigers were playing a late out-of-conference game for the first time in nearly 20 years, a chance to see how they measured up against an Xavier team that is trying to make it through a season full of tough breaks.
Even with their indispensable point guard missing because of injury, the Musketeers (16-11) made the Tigers look badly overmatched for a half, then rallied to pull it out at the end.
"I believe in energy, and our energy in the first half stunk, which is full credit to Xavier," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. "They kicked our butts."
In every way.
So, now what for the Tigers?
Two of Memphis' four losses have come against Atlantic 10 teams — Xavier and Virginia Commonwealth. They also lost to Minnesota. With a chance to extend that winning streak and show they can hold their own out of conference, the Tigers went into a shell.
"It was out of character," Johnson said. "We had no intensity. We came in here thinking they'll roll over and we'll get our 19th straight win. It's not like that."
The sluggish Tigers scored only 20 points in the first half — their lowest-scoring half of the season — and got dominated on the boards, ending a couple of notable streaks. Their 18-game winning streak was fifth-longest in school history.
The school record is 27 straight wins during the 2008-09 season, when Memphis went 33-4 and reached the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament. One of the four losses that season came against Xavier.
Memphis was the only Division I school that hadn't lost a road game this season. The Tigers had won 11 straight on the road overall, the nation's longest active streak.
"Eighteen in a row is not easy to do," said Pastner, who was hoping for his 100th win as the Tigers' coach. "You don't take it for granted. Long winning streaks, conference championships — those aren't birthrights."
Xavier made good on its second straight chance to beat a ranked team at home. The Musketeers blew a 17-point lead before losing to then-No. 24 VCU on Saturday. Point guard Dee Davis left that game with a head injury with more than 13 minutes left, helping VCU rally. He was still feeling the effects and didn't play on Tuesday.
Didn't matter. The Musketeers dominated most of the game anyway.
Travis Taylor had 18 points and 10 rebounds for Xavier, whose 45-36 advantage in rebounds led to 18 second-chance points. By contrast, Memphis managed only four points off rebounds the entire game.
"We knew how big and physical they were," Taylor said. "Coach (Chris Mack) made it a big challenge to give them no second chances."
Johnson made three 3s that helped the Tigers overcome that 13-point deficit in the second half. D.J. Stephens made the first of his two free throws with seven-tenths of a second left, but failed to hit the rim while purposely missing the second shot, clinching it for Xavier.
The Musketeers haven't lost back-to-back home games since 2005-06. After the second-half meltdown against VCU, they weren't going to let it happen again.
"We came into the huddle and talked about how we were not going to let it happen like it did against VCU," forward Isaiah Philmore said. "We had a bad feeling after that game."
Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay