Eagles put up fight but fade down stretch
By Tim Doherty
HATTIESBURG — Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy provided a portrait of disappointment Saturday night at Green Coliseum, and not because he he never saw the end of his Golden Eagles' Conference USA basketball game with Memphis.
Instead, Eustachy bemoaned what he considered a lost opportunity to take the No. 20 Tigers down.
After banging with Memphis for 35 minutes, USM couldn't keep up down the stretch as the Tigers wrestled away a 75-62 victory before an announced 5,410, the largest crowd of the season.
"I'm disappointed in myself," said Eustachy, who was thumbed by referee Larry Rose after picking up his second technical with 2 minutes, 31 seconds to play. "I was hoping that I could get this team to the point at this time of year where we could seize a great opportunity like this and nail a national opponent.
"I'm disappointed that I haven't gotten this team to the point where in critical situations, we can make the plays."
Like Memphis did. The Tigers (13-3, 3-0 C-USA) won their fifth consecutive game by beating USM (11-4, 1-1) for the sixth consecutive time because players stepped up when they had to.
"We needed a battle and we got it," Memphis John Calipari said. "I'm still learning about my team, about who, when the going gets a little rough, is going to keep his wits about him and play to win.
"That's who I have to play to try and win games."
Guys like 6-foot-9, 260-pound Joey Dorsey, who went for 14 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots.
Or guard Chris Douglas-Roberts, who scored a game-high 23 points, including a 14-of-17 exhibition from the free-throw line.
But USM chased the Tigers' tail into the final five minutes of the game, trailing only 62-59 after Craig Craft popped in two of his career-high 21 points on a pull-up jumper with 4:56 remaining.
But another one of those guys that Calipari referred to, senior guard Jeremy Hunt, took a feed deep in the left corner and let fly. The ball hit the rim and popped straight in the air before knifing straight down through the net.
"Hunt's three from the corner, that was huge," Eustachy said.
It was the beginning of a game-ending 13-3 run that Eustachy never saw the end of.
With Memphis holding a 67-60 lead, Rose hit Eustachy with his second technical of the second half.
"That didn't help," Eustachy said.
Neither did his first one, which came with 10:35 to play and led to two free throws by Douglas-Roberts and another freebie by forward Robert Dozier (11 points).
It helped feed a 12-4 run that lifted Memphis from a 50-45 deficit into a 57-54 lead with 9:02 left in the game.
And though the Golden Eagles stuck around for the stretch, the Tigers never trailed again.
"It's bittersweet," said USM guard Jeremy Wise said, who had 13 points and five assists. "We saw that we can play with them. We can see our potential.
But USM has little time to muse on that.
The Golden Eagles hit the road to take on UTEP before visiting the Tigers next Saturday.
"We have another chance," Wise said