After his team had fought from being down by 11 with just under 10 minutes to play, Southern Miss guard Cedric Jenkins was armed with an opportunity to knock off the seemingly untouchable University of Memphis.
But, like so many times throughout this series, the 3-pointer with three seconds left was an inch or two offline as the Tigers edged the Golden Eagles, 60-58, for the 18th straight time Wednesday at FedExForum.
Sophomore guard Chris Crawford nailed a pair of free throws with 32 seconds remaining to set up Southern Miss’ missed three.
The win, which put an end to Southern Miss’ 11-game winning streak, was the Tigers‘ fifth straight. Golden Eagles coach Larry Eustachy is now 0-17 against Memphis.
“I’m just glad we won the game,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “That last shot looked good. He got open. We were supposed to switching on that, and we didn’t. There was some miscommunication.”
Even after a defensive breakdown with three seconds left to play, the Golden Eagles were unable to escape Memphis with a victory over the Tigers (11-5, 2-0 Conference USA). It‘s almost as if the Golden Eagles are hexed against Memphis.
Last season in Hattiesburg, Miss., Charles Carmouche hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Memphis a 76-75 win. The Golden Eagles haven’t beaten Memphis since 2004.
But Memphis guard Will Barton, who finished with 11 points and nine rebounds, doesn‘t put stock into the theory that the Golden Eagles don’t believe they can defeat the Tigers.
“I think their psyche is that they can beat Memphis,” Barton said. “That’s why they keep giving us good games. If they thought they couldn’t beat us, we’d probably blow them out. They really believe they can beat us and it shows.”
Memphis was surely on its way to blowing out the Golden Eagles with 12:21 left to play after Barton converted a floater to put the Tigers ahead by 12. But Southern Miss refused to go down quietly, pouring in three straight 3-pointers several minutes later to whittle the Tigers’ lead down to four, 51-47, with 8:28 remaining.
“When we made that run and went up 12, I thought we were about to bury them,” Barton said. “They came right back.”
In fact, the Golden Eagles took the lead, 52-51, after Lashay Page banged in his fourth 3-pointer of the night with 4:58 to play.
But like he’s done so often in the past, sophomore guard Antonio Barton, who led the Tigers with 13 points, answered right back with a three of his own to retake the lead, 54-52. It was a lead Memphis wouldn’t relinquish.
“In these games that are coming down to the wire, we’re not breaking as a team,” Antonio Barton said. “These games are gonna help us very much in the future.”
Memphis, which was led by Antonio Barton’s 13 points, shot 41.3 percent for the game and led 29-25 at halftime.
Defensively, the Tigers employed several schemes, going from a man-to-man set to a 1-2-2 zone.
With 3:38 left to play and the score tied at 54 apiece, Pastner elected to go with the 2-1-2 zone out of a timeout, which resulted in two straight Golden Eagle misses.
Memphis held Southern Miss to 35 percent shooting overall and 29 percent from the perimeter. Page led the Golden Eagles with 16 points and four 3-pointers.
“We won the game today for two reasons: free throw shooting and we got stops,” Pastner said. “We won the game because of defense.”
In thwarting Southern Miss for the 18th straight time, sophomore forward Tarik Black came up with some timely blocks, finishing with five for the game. He swatted away a Jonathan Mills layup that would’ve tied the game at 58 with a minute to play.
“I just try to do what I can. That’s my mindset right now,” said Black, who also had nine points and 10 rebounds. “I try to do what I can to make us win. I don’t consider myself a scorer, a shot blocker, or a lockdown defender. I try to give us what the team needs for any given night.”
The Tigers now take to the road for their next two conference games, starting Saturday against Houston at Hofheinz Pavilion. They’ll conclude the brief road trip at UCF next Wednesday before returning home to take on Southern Methodist on the 21st.