Big plays late rescue Tigers
Calipari believes narrow escape will benefit team
By Dan Wolken
January 28, 2007
If you're Andre Allen, and you're a 30.5 percent career 3-point shooter, what do you do when the ball comes to you with 1 minute, 56 seconds remaining and the University of Memphis down by two?
If you're Jeremy Hunt, and you've missed every kind of shot imaginable, what do you do when Southern Miss goes to a zone defense and the game hangs in the balance?
And if you're Chris Douglas-Roberts, what do you do when there's pain shooting up your right ankle every time you take a step, but see a victory slipping away?
The only way to explain how No. 11-ranked Memphis came from six points down with 6:25 remaining at FedExForum Saturday to beat Southern Miss, 67-64, is by answering those three questions.
If you're Allen, you bury that 3-pointer. If you're Hunt, you make two 3-pointers, the second giving Memphis a 58-55 lead with 3:45 left. And if you're Douglas-Roberts, you demand the basketball and score 10 points in the final seven minutes, including two free throws with 7.6 seconds left when one miss would have opened the door for a monumental upset.
And after Southern Miss forward Sai'Quon Stone's tying 3-point attempt missed at the buzzer and the Tigers had their ninth straight win, coach John Calipari exhaled and thought about all the plays down the stretch that helped Memphis improve to 17-3 overall and 7-0 in Conference USA.
"We need a bunch of these (close games)," Calipari said. "To go through (a season) and not have a bunch of these is tough. The reason you need these games is, as a unit, you know who has the (courage) to make a play because we weren't running plays. We were jumping on some guys' backs, and they made plays. It's easier to stop a play than it is a player."
And for most of the game, Southern Miss effectively stopped Memphis' plays. Though the Tigers ended the first half on a 12-0 run to take a 32-25 lead into the locker room, the Golden Eagles came right back behind freshman guard Jeremy Wise, who scored 28 points on 10-of-24 shooting.
Southern Miss also took advantage of Memphis' poor free-throw shooting -- 12-of-25 in the second half, including four straight misses on front-ends once the Tigers got into the bonus -- and grabbed the lead with a 14-4 run.
A 17-foot jumper by Wise with 6:25 to play gave Southern Miss a 55-49 lead, and with Douglas-Roberts, the Tigers' leading scorer, clearly limited due to a sprained ankle that forced him to miss Memphis' previous three games, a pall fell over the crowd of 14,741.
"Early in the game, my ankle was killing me but I was thinking about it too much," Douglas-Roberts said. "I saw us losing, and I was like, 'No way we're going to lose this.' I said (to Calipari), ride me for a minute."
Hunt was calling for the ball too. Despite a rough start -- he made four of his first 12 from the field, 2-of-7 from 3-point range -- Hunt didn't hesitate with 5:15 to go when he got an open look with Memphis behind 53-52. It dropped. And so did the next one, 1:30 later, to put the Tigers ahead by three.
"I'm going to miss shots a whole lot during the season," said Hunt, who finished with 21 points. "I'm just the type of player, I'm not going to stop shooting if I'm wide open. I just wanted to take my time on my shots, and they started falling, and they just happened to be two big threes at the end."
But the biggest belonged to Allen, who had missed 14 of his previous 18 attempts from 3-point range this season. But when he got the ball wide-open on the far wing with 1:56 left and Memphis down 62-60 after a Wise jumper, he had no thought but to shoot.
"I told Chris three plays earlier, when I pass him the ball, my man was running the trap," Allen said. "So I told him, my man is leaving me to come and trap you. If you pass it to me, I'm guaranteed to make it."
While Memphis was celebrating, Southern Miss (13-6, 3-3) was wondering what more it could have done. Two weeks after making Memphis work down to the last couple minutes for a 75-62 victory in Hattiesburg, the Golden Eagles played even better.
Southern Miss roughed up the Tigers at every opportunity, got forward Robert Dozier in foul trouble (he had seven points in 16 minutes), outrebounded the Tigers 37-31 and generally out-worked them for most of the game.
"The game was closer than three points in my opinion," coach Larry Eustachy said. "Hunt hit huge shots against the zone. Allen hit a huge shot. You've got to give those two guys credit. What we wanted to happen happened."
-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365