When Angelo Johnson released the last shot of tonight’s game at FedExForum — behind the three-point line, his Southern Miss Golden Eagles down two points — the collective protest of 16,246 fans was as loud as an earlier roar that followed a thunderous Will Barton dunk. Having made two of his four earlier shots from long range, Johnson was the right guy for a buzzer-beating trey to send those fans home quietly.
He missed the shot. The ball deflected high off the rim with just over a second to play, then was tipped out of bounds as time expired. As Johnson fell to the floor in defeat, a relieved Memphis team lined up for its fifth consecutive victorious postgame handshake.
“I thought [the shot] was good,” said Tiger coach Josh Pastner. “I slammed the scorer’s table twice, once in madness, the other happiness. He had an open look because we had a breakdown on a defensive switch. Probably because the crowd was so loud, and they couldn’t hear the switch. I actually apologized to Coach [Larry] Eustachy after the game for the way I acted.”
The narrow win gives the Tigers a record of 11-5, 2-0 in Conference USA play. For Southern Miss, the loss ended an 11-game winning streak, the program’s longest in 24 years. Memphis has now beaten the Golden Eagles 18 straight times dating back to 2004.
The win was ugly. The Tigers hit only 19 field goals. The Eagles missed 37 of the 57 shots they took from the field, the fifth straight game — no coincidence — the Tigers have held their opponent under 40 percent. Southern Miss’ leading scorer — one-time Memphis signee Darnell Dodson — didn’t score a single point in 18 minutes of play. For the Tigers, only the Barton brothers reached double-figures in the scoring column (Antonio with 13, Will with 11). Their 60 points were the Tigers' fewest in a win this season.
“We won the game for two reasons,” said Pastner. “We made free throws [18 of 24] and we got stops. That’s a good basketball club. Anyone who says differently doesn’t know basketball. We were fortunate to get the win. We were stagnant offensively and made eight turnovers in the second half. Can’t do that. They had 10 points off turnovers and 14 second-chance points. But hey, we won the game.”
Tarik Black and Chris Crawford each hit a pair of free throws in the final minute to provide the winning margin. Crawford was intentionally fouled on a bizarre play with 31 seconds left after the Eagles’ Jonathan Mills had tied the game with a pair of free throws.
“We owe this win to Tiger Nation,” said Pastner. “I heard Coach Eustachy tell them not to foul. But I think — because the crowd was so loud — the player didn’t hear ‘don’t’.”
Memphis went on a 12-4 run to opened the second half and take a 41-29 lead, only to see Southern Miss rally behind the long-distance shooting of Johnson and LaShay Page (4 of 10 from three-point range). A three-pointer by Johnson gave the visitors a 52-51 lead with just under five minutes to play, but Antonio Barton answered with his second trey of the game to regain the lead for the Tigers. The game was later tied at 54, 56, and 58, but Memphis didn’t trail again.
Tiger center Tarik Black was a defensive force with five blocked shots to go with 10 rebounds and nine points. He smiled after the game at the mention of his two clutch free throws. “That late, you can’t think about anything,” he said. “You’ve got to go to the line, trust your form, and trust your shot.”
“These were two good teams,” added Black, “and we’re in conference play now. We’re fighting, and they came in here to give us a fight. It’s just conference play. We’re just trying to keep our streak going. They had theirs, and it was longer than ours. We’re happy about this and we’ll celebrate tonight, but tomorrow we’ll start getting ready for the next one.”
The Tigers' next two games will be on the road, at Houston this Saturday and next Wednesday at UCF. They’ll return to FedExForum on January 21st to face SMU.