If you’re looking for the player who could make a difference when the Tigers take the floor against heavily favored Syracuse Wednesday night, you might start with junior guard Roburt Sallie. The Orange are renowned for their zone defense, one good enough to land them at number seven in the country with a record of 13-1. Particularly with the offensive shortcomings among the Tiger big men, the U of M’s best chance at making the game a contest will be long-distance shooting. Which is where Sallie comes into play.
A season ago, Sallie hit 47 percent of his three-point attempts (55 for 117) while averaging just over 15 minutes a game off the bench. He lit up Cal State Northridge with 10 treys in the first round of the NCAA tournament or the Tigers would have been the event’s biggest upset story. (Sallie scored 35 of his team’s 81 points that day, a Tiger record for the Big Dance.)
Through 13 games this season, Sallie is averaging 31 minutes a game, but is shooting only 32 percent from beyond the arc (20 for 63). And when Sallie’s been cold, he’s been frigid. Five times this season, he’s attempted at least three treys without making a single one. (How different the two-point loss to Kansas may have been had Sallie not missed all six of his heaves.) He had only one such game in 2008-09.
Sallie made four of seven against Houston Baptist last Sunday, though, and has his 47 percent of his three-pointers over the Tigers’ last three games (8 for 17).
After Sunday’s win, I asked Sallie if he could recognize anything different in a game when his shot is falling. “The only thing I can identify is that my ball will go in, then pop out, and my confidence will sink,” he said. “That game when I hit 10 threes, I wasn’t thinking about it; just shooting. That will come again.”
Coach Josh Pastner has stuck with Sallie through his cold spells, in large part because the Tiger bench is so thin on options. But Sallie has handled the ball well (30 assists to 17 turnovers) and ranks third in Conference USA with 2.5 steals per game.
The only way Memphis steals a win Wednesday night is with this sharpshooter finding his range early and often.