Jim Valvano would have liked this one.
In a top-20 battle to cap off the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York, the 15th-ranked Tigers and 16-ranked Florida Gators played the kind of basketball we're accustomed to seeing in late March, a game of counter-punches and alternating scoring runs that came down to a final-possession drive, shot, and miss from Memphis guard Joe Jackson.
Having fallen behind 69-61 after an 11-3 Gator run, the Tigers fought back over the game's final five minutes, keyed by a three-pointer from Chris Crawford and six of seven free throws converted by Jackson and Shaq Goodwin. Florida's Dorian Finney-Smith and Scottie Wilbekin each missed the first of one-and-one at the foul line, allowing the Tigers a final chance to tie the game after a timeout by Memphis coach Josh Pastner with 10.8 seconds remaining. Jackson took the inbound pass near the top of the key, penetrated and attempted a shot off the left side of the backboard. The attempt appeared to be deflected, though, bouncing near midcourt where Michael Dixon heaved a desperation attempt as time expired.
The loss drops the Tigers' record to 7-2, while the Gators improve to 8-2.
Senior transfer David Pellom was the story of the first half for the Tigers when he (10 points) and Dixon (9) combined for half the Tigers' points as Florida led 41-38 at the break. Senior guard Geron Johnson scored the Tigers' first six points of the second half (on his way to 13 for the game). The Tigers had things tied at 58 with 10:20 to play, only to see the Gators score the next six points. Casey Prather led the way for Florida with with 22 points, while Finney-Smith added 14 off the bench.
Johnson was one of five Tigers to score in double figures, along with Pellom (12), Dixon (10), Jackson (17), and Chris Crawford (12). All four of Crawford's field goals came from three-point range. The Gators all but shut down the Memphis big men, holding Goodwin and Austin Nichols to a combined three field goals and 11 points.
The Tigers shot 50-percent for the game, while the Gators hit on 51-percent of their 55 shots from the field. The Gators hit seven three-pointers (to the Tigers' six) and made 14 free throws (one fewer than Memphis). It was that close.
The Tigers return to FedExForum for their next two games, this Saturday against Southeast Missouri, then on December 28th against Jackson State.