Consider the first monkey of Josh Pastner's young coaching career safely removed from his back. With a narrow escape this afternoon in Auburn Hills, Michigan, the Memphis coach earned the first NCAA tournament win of his career. Now 31-4 on the season, the U of M advances to the third round of the Midwest regional, where they'll face 9th-ranked Michigan State. The Spartans (26-8) beat Valparaiso, 65-54, on the same floor where the Tigers and Gaels played.
The Tigers utilized a 19-2 run over a nine-minute stretch of the first half to take a 28-13 lead. Back-to-back three pointers by Adonis Thomas and Joe Jackson keyed the run, along with five points from Tarik Black on consecutive possessions less than four minutes before halftime. The Gaels' star point guard, Matt Dellavedova missed six of his eight shots in the first half and Saint Mary's misfired on all six of their three-point attempts before the break.
In the second half, the Tiger offense froze, scoring only four points in over eight minutes of action. The Gaels drew within three (36-33), before Memphis countered. A dunk by D.J. Stephens (over Dellavedova in the snapshot of the game) and a three-pointer from junior guard Chris Crawford (his first points of the game after an MVP weekend at the Conference USA tournament) gave the Tigers a 44-35 lead with seven minutes to play.
His team down four with 4:15 to go, Dellavedova went to the foul line and missed the first of a one-and-one. When Joe Jackson followed with a trey from the top of the arc, the Tigers had a seven-point cushion (47-40). They would need virtually all of it over the game's final four minutes.
A pair of missed free throws — one by Jackson, another by Stephens — kept the Gaels close enough for desperation shots inside the final minute. When just such a shot by Eividas Petrulis— from behind the arc, off the glass — fell threw the net with 1.9 seconds to play, the Memphis lead was reduced to 54-52. Making matters that much worse, the Tigers turned the ball over on the ensuing inbounds play, a pass from Thomas deflecting off Jackson's hands. Dellavedova received the inbounds pass that followed and overshot a three-point attempt at the buzzer.
The loss was the first for Saint Mary's to a team not named Gonzaga since Christmas. The win for Memphis is the program's first in the NCAA tournament since 2009, and the first in three attempts by veterans Jackson, Black, Crawford, and Stephens.
Jackson led Memphis with 14 points, while Thomas and Black added 12 each. The Tigers blocked 12 Saint Mary's shots, eight of them by Stephens, C-USA's Defensive Player of the Year.
Memphis has beaten Michigan State in the only two meetings between the schools, the last coming in the 2008 NCAAs. With one monkey removed from Pastner's back, here's another: he's 0-11 against ranked teams.