This one will sting for a while. A Memphis team that entered the 2011-12 season with talk of a top-10 ranking and a deep NCAA tournament run walked off the floor in Columbus, Ohio, losers — for the second year in a row — in its opening game of the Big Dance. The loss finishes the Tigers' season with a record of 26-9 and a drought of three years without a win in college basketball's premier event.
Billiken guard Kwamain Mitchell wasn't quite Bill Walton, vintage 1973, but he did hit nine of 14 shots, including four of seven from three-point country (including a desperation bank-shot as time expired in the first half to tie the game). Mitchell finished with a game-high 22 points. He was complemented by Brian Conklin with 16 (including 10 of 11 from the free-throw line).
The build-up to the game focused on the contrasting styles: Memphis as up-tempo, Saint Louis preferring a halfcourt affair. Among the nation's stingiest defenses, Saint Louis held the Tigers to their lowest point total of the season. A U of M team that shot just under 50 percent over 34 games was held to 39 percent tonight. Despite the misfiring, Memphis led by eight points (37-29) with 11:40 to play in the game, only to see the Billikens make a 14-2 run over a six-minute stretch to seize control.
Will Barton scored 16 points to lead the Tigers. (The sophomore guard finished the season with 631 points, the 10th-most for a season in Memphis history.) But Chris Crawford and Joe Jackson combined to make only four of 18 shots. Worse still, foul trouble once again reduced Tiger center Tarik Black to a spectator. He had four points and four rebounds in 19 minutes on the floor. The Tigers missed 13 of the 15 shots they took from behind the three-point line.
Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus — 30 years older than Tiger coach Josh Pastner — improves to 11-1 in opening games of the NCAA tournament. The win is the first for the Billikens in the tournament since 1998.