NEW YORK -- If the University of Memphis were a Broadway play it would have been canceled after opening night. But since this is the NIT, the Tigers get to play one more time -- in the consolation game Thursday night against Detroit Mercy.
In the worlds most famous arena, beneath the retired jerseys of Willis Reed, Earl the Pearl Monroe, and Bill Bradley the Tigers were no match for Tulsa, losing 72-64 in front of 6,597. Memphis clearly has the largest contingent of supporters at this tournament but the Tigers gave them very little to cheer about for the first 30 minutes of the game. The Golden Hurricane built a 12-point halftime lead to 20 by the 12-minute mark of the second half.
That was when Shannon Foreman told his teammates that they couldnt quit. That is when Memphis put some drama into their show. Using a relentless trapping defense the Tigers cut the lead to 3 with 4:39 minutes to go in the game. Forman led the charge with seven points.
I wanted it to the point that I wasnt taking no for an answer, Forman said. I told them Im not going to let you bring down the team because we werent playing hard.
John Calipari said he thought it may have been a question of stage fright for the teams first appearance in Madison Square Garden.
We were a little nervous, the coach said. Weve never been here before. This team has had a fabulous season and I hope we can end with a win, but its been a fabulous season.
Memphis trailed 41-29 at halftime, playing its worst half since losing to Louisville 65-56 in the last game of the regular season. The Tigers shot just 37 percent and turned the ball over 11 times, which Tulsa converted into 15 points.
In the first game, Alabama (25-10) beat a scrappy Detroit Mercy (25-11) team 74-63. Tulsa and Alabama will meet for the championship Thursday night.
**One of the New York sportswriters asked Shannon Forman what John Calipari had meant to the Tiger program. Calipari was not present at the time, but came in during the answer: He did a great job. He made each and every one of our players better individually and team-wise. He pushed us to a level that we had never been pushed before. He worked us to the point that we thought we couldnt go any more. Yet, still we kept moving on.
**Memphis hit only four of 14 foul shots (28 percent). Calipari shrugged, Thats who we are, he said.
**Detroit Mercy, a Jesuit school, is led by senior Rashad Phillips, a 5-10 guard who has scored more than 2,600 points in his college career. Because of his slight build, quickness, and cornrows, Phillips is often compared to Allen Iverson. Phillips even wears the same number as Iverson -- three.
**Congressman Harold Ford Jr. sat with Memphis CVB president Kevin Kane in the Tiger rooting section.
**Antonio McDyess was in the audience watching the Alabama victory over Detroit Mercy. McDyess now plays for the Denver Nuggets. He played his college ball at Alabama.
**Buzz Peterson won the 100th game of his brief head coaching career this season. He is in his first season at Tulsa, replacing Bill Self, who took the Illinois job after leading the Golden Hurricane to the Elite Eight in 2000. Peterson is a candidate for the vacancy at Tennessee and was Michael Jordans college roommate. Tulsa seems to be the ultimate stepping stone for college coaches. Among the coaches are (Arkansas), Tubby Smith (Kentucky), and Steve Robinson (Florida State).