Eight days after an ugly loss at FedExForum staggered Memphis Tiger fans far and wide, the U of M beat George Washington in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Tigers led the Colonials start to finish, but clinched the victory only when GW's Maurice Creek missed a three-point attempt — his team down three — with just under three seconds to play. (Michael Dixon was fouled and hit a pair of free throws for the final margin.) Memphis advances to play the winner of tonight's second game in Raleigh, likely the East region's top seed, Virginia. (Coastal Carolina is the 16-seed offered up to the Cavaliers.)
Tiger senior Chris Crawford buried three three-pointers in the game's first eight minutes, as many as he'd hit in four previous NCAA tournament games. They were the only shots the Memphis native would hit, missing nine others but still scoring a career-high in tournament play (9 points). Fellow Memphian Joe Jackson scored 15 (also a tournament high) and contributed six assists to help the Tigers improve to 24-9 for the season. Dixon led Memphis with 19 points off the bench, including a trey with less than two minutes left that extended the Tigers' lead to 67-62. He also hit two critical free throws with 9.6 seconds left.
Memphis led by 10 points with 9:30 to go, but steady play from the Colonials' Isaiah Armwood (21 points despite four fouls) and Kevin Larsen (16 points) kept GW in the contest.
The outcome tests Tiger coach's Josh Pastner's oft-stated belief that if a team makes three-point shots, it will win. Memphis missed 16 of its 22 attempts from long range, but held on for the victory as the Colonials were even uglier from beyond the arc (2 for 12). The Tigers shot 49 percent for the game compared with 45 percent for 9th-seeded George Washington. Memphis had 19 assists against 12 turnovers.
Austin Nichols and Shaq Goodwin were efficient inside for the Tigers, combining to hit seven of 10 shots and pull down 11 rebounds.
The win means Memphis will not lose consecutive games all season. It will also give the Tigers a chance for what would be the biggest NCAA tournament upset in the program's history. UVA went 16-2 in the mighty Atlantic Coast Conference this season, winning the hallowed league's regular-season and tournament titles. The Cavaliers' frenetic motion offense is sure to test a Tiger team that goes only eight deep in its rotation.
The 2013-14 Tigers have handled the role of underdog well, against Oklahoma State in the Old Spice Classic, and twice against the reigning national champions. They'll need another big upset to reach the program's first Sweet 16 since 2009.