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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Tigers Avoid Golden Eagle Upset Bid

Tigers feast on the free-throw line, avoid Golden Eagle upset bid

By Dan Wolken
January 14, 2007

HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- The young team in the yellow jerseys was beginning to suck the University of Memphis into its grind-it-out game, the Reed Green Coliseum crowd was becoming more of a factor with every possession, and John Calipari was starting to lose his cool with an officiating crew that couldn't go more than a few seconds without blowing a whistle.

But with all the stars seemingly in line Saturday for a Southern Miss upset, the No. 20-ranked Tigers showed both their versatility and their resolve in a 75-62 victory.

Whereas the Tigers were able to get any shot they wanted in a fast-paced affair at Houston on Thursday, Southern Miss successfully took Memphis out of its comfort zone, executing an ugly, physical plan that brought the game to a crawling pace.
But under constant duress, Memphis fought for crucial second-half baskets and won the game at the free-throw line, making 33-of-46 and improving to 13-3 on the year, 3-0 in Conference USA.

"It was a real physical game, and their fans made it worse," sophomore guard Chris Douglas-Roberts said. "We're a physical team, and when we play physical, usually we come out on top."

Though Southern Miss fell to 11-4 and 1-1 in the league, it was an impressive effort for a team that starts three freshmen and a sophomore.

"We needed a battle, and we got it," Calipari said. "I needed to see it; when the stuff gets a little rough, who's going to be able to keep their wits about them and play to win?"

Saturday, it was Douglas-Roberts, who scored 23 points despite a sprained right ankle and took over during a critical stretch of the second half, scoring five straight that gave Memphis the lead for good with 9:23 left.

And it was also junior forward Joey Dorsey, scoring 14 points with 11 rebounds and six blocked shots. Dorsey, a career 41.9 percent free-throw shooter, made 6-of-9 at the line, several of them at nervous moments in the second half.

"Chris has been our go-to guy all year. We knew that from Day 1 coming in, and he showed it today," sophomore forward Robert Dozier said. "And Joey was a monster. He got every rebound, he had six blocks. He was everything we needed."

While those two Tigers were cool under pressure, Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy fell to pieces in the second half, his constant arguments with the officiating crew eventually earning him two technical fouls and an ejection with 2:31 left. Douglas-Roberts converted the subsequent free throws to give the Tigers a 69-60 lead and essentially seal the victory.

"I'm really disappointed in myself that I can't quite ... I hoped I'd be able to get this team to a point this time of year where we could seize a great opportunity like this," Eustachy said. "In critical situations, we couldn't make plays. We had a lot of breakdowns when the game was really on. We settled for long shots and fouled and put it in the officials' hands, and there was no need to. We're just not quite there yet."

Eustachy wasn't the only one unhappy with the officiating.

After a slow first half in which 23 total fouls were called -- 12 on Memphis, 11 on Southern Miss -- Calipari launched into a tirade early in the second half that earned him a technical foul.

At the time, the game was beginning to slip away, with Southern Miss scoring five straight to erase the Tigers' 31-26 halftime lead. But Calipari's technical foul was effective, as Memphis scored nine straight points to take a 40-32 lead, which on many nights might have been enough to rattle Southern Miss.

Instead, the Golden Eagles suddenly caught fire from the 3-point line, with Jeremy Wise and Craig Craft hitting on back-to-back possessions and sparking a 12-0 run that gave the Golden Eagles a four-point lead with 12:56 remaining.

Then, a few seconds later, sophomore Antonio Anderson drained a 3-pointer from the corner in front of Memphis' bench, energizing the Tigers, who charged to a 57-54 lead.

And though the Tigers led the rest of the way, it wasn't until Jeremy Hunt's 3-pointer with 4:27 left that Memphis started to get separation at 65-59.

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