The University of Memphis Tigers are going to the Big Apple and the city is once again in love with its college basketball team.
A raucous crowd of 15,238 sang, chanted, and gave long standing ovations as the Tigers dominated New Mexico 81-63. They will play Tulsa in Madison Square Garden in a semi-final game on Tuesday night. The win improves the Memphis record to 20-14. They are the first Tiger team to win 20 games since 1996 and the first team to reach the NIT championship round since 1957.
Show me a team without an inside game and I will show you a fraud, John Calipari likes to say. The Tigers twin towers of Kelly Wise and Earl Barron certainly exposed the Lobos Thursday night. Both Tiger big men posted double-doubles and Memphis outrebounded New Mexico 49-32. The two had almost identical lines in the box score. Wise had 16 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks, and two assists. Barron added 16 points, 12 boards, three blocks, and two assists.
Marcus Moody added to his school record with two three-point shots. The senior guard scored 7 points to lead a 14-5 Tiger run that extended a 39-30 halftime lead. After Moodys onslaught, Barron, a 6-11 sophomore from Clarkdale, Mississippi, scored 10 consecutive points in route to a 65-49 lead.
There were NBA scouts at the game observing the crowd and The Pyramid itself. A source close to the effort to get the Vancouver Grizzlies to move to Memphis confirmed that there were representatives from the league office in attendance at the game. Governor Don Sundquist, who has said the state should help in the NBA bid, was at the game, sitting in the first row behind the Tiger bench. Mayor Willie Herenton also attended.
The source expressed confidence that Memphis has a good chance of getting the team. The citys basketball fans certainly put on a show for the visitors from the NBA. The crowd was loud and involved. They chanted New York! New York! in the final minutes of the game. They stayed long after the contest ended.
Calipari was only disappointed with one thing.
They still don't know to storm the court, he said. I'll teach them that next year."