Some nights you have to swallow the blood and make your free throws. Wednesday night at FedExForum, Tiger senior point guard Ricky Tarrant Jr.
did just that — with the score tied and 1.5 seconds left on the clock — to give his team its biggest win of the season to date. Tarrant had collided with Temple's Daniel Dingle after receiving an inbounds pass from teammate Shaq Goodwin, a sequence that followed a bizarre game-tying play for Temple.
In retrieving an errant shot under the Temple basket — with Memphis leading, 65-63, and five seconds to play — Tiger swingman Trahson Burrell threw the ball back in play, but directly to Temple guard Josh Brown, who converted an easy layup to tie the score. (This is the same Josh Brown who beat the Tigers at the buzzer on the same court 11 months ago.) What followed could be a season-turning sequence, however bloody, for Memphis, now 11-5 for the season (2-1 in the American Athletic Conference).
"I think the MVP was [trainer] Brad Anderson," said Tiger coach Josh Pastner. "Ricky's mouth was full of blood. His teeth were all over the place. But I told Brad, 'I don't care what you do; he's shooting those free throws.' All he had to do is make one. [Anderson] put a towel up there and it was soaked with blood. The refs saw the blood coming down his mouth and said we had to get someone else [to shoot]. I said, 'Baloney. He's fine.' So Ricky took a big gulp, drank all of his blood, licked his lips. And he shot the free throws."
The game-winning free throws completed a sequence over the game's final 1:37 in which Memphis made eight of ten shots from the foul line to erase a 63-59 deficit. An 88-percent free-throw shooter this season, Tarrant made four of five in the stretch and six of eight for the game to finish with 13 points in 37 minutes on the floor. Overall, Memphis hit 23 of 30 free throws while Temple only took nine shots (and made five) from the charity stripe.
"We were due to get a break our way," said Pastner. "One thing about this team is they fight, they scrap, they claw. They get on the floor. They're not perfect, but they represent Memphis the right way. They're blue-collar. I hope the fans can appreciate this team, this year. It doesn't mean we'll win every game, but we're gonna leave it on the floor."
The Tigers committed 12 turnovers in the first half, helping Temple take a 37-31 lead after 20 minutes. But they protected the ball in the second half (just two turnovers) and countered just when the Owls seemed to extend their lead comfortably. A 6-0 run (helped by a technical foul called on Burrell) gave Temple a 58-52 lead with 6:24 left. But Markel Crawford
pulled down an offensive rebound and dunked, then Dedric Lawson
drained a three-pointer from the left wing to keep the Tigers close enough for the late free throws to matter. Lawson finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season.
Senior forward Shaq Goodwin
embodied the Tigers' effort with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and four blocks in 38 minutes. His postgame smile seemed like one of relief. "They got us in a nail-biter last year," said Goodwin. "It's just good to see this team get a ball bounce our way. Everybody chipped in and worked. A special thank you to Ricky Tarrant. He could have easily gone to the sideline, or back to the training room. But he got up there and knocked down not one of them, but both of them."
Memphis held Temple to 37 percent from the field and forced 13 turnovers against a team that averages only nine per game. The Tigers shot only 36 percent from the field themselves and had two more turnovers (14) than assists (12). Call it an ugly win. A bloody win even. But at the regular season's precise midpoint, any win for Josh Pastner's Memphis Tigers looks lovely in reflection.
The Tigers host USF at FedExForum this Saturday (tipoff at 11 a.m.).