If Wednesday night's 76-75 victory at Southern Mississippi turns out to be the turning point in Memphis' turbulent season, the Tigers will remember an unlikely comeback, an otherworldly pass and a clutch shot as what reversed their fortune.
Memphis trailed by two points with 6.7 seconds remaining when point guard Joe Jackson zoomed up the right side of the court and somehow on a dead sprint found teammate Charles Carmouche spotted up on the other side of the court. Carmouche buried a left-wing three-pointer with 1.2 seconds to go, lifting the Tigers to a much-needed victory and denying Southern Mississippi a signature win.
"I told them, 'We are going to shoot a three regardless,'" Memphis coach Josh Pastner told My Fox Memphis. "'We are going for the win. We will not shoot a two pointer.' We drew up a play, we were going to do a hand off with Joe and Will Barton. I said, 'Charles, go to the other wing.' I told Joe, 'You're either going to hand off to Will for a three or skip it to Charles.' And, by golly, Charles, what a big shot, what a great pass by Joe. I am so proud of our players."
The significance of the game for both Memphis (14-4, 3-1) and Southern Miss (14-4, 3-2) makes Carmouche's shot even more memorable.
For the freshman-heavy Tigers, this was a victory that will temporarily silence the critics who have chastised them for their up-and-down play and reestablish them as favorites to win Conference USA and return to the NCAA tournament. For the senior-laden Golden Eagles, this was a squandered opportunity to take over first place in the league and return coach Larry Eustachy to the national spotlight for the first time since he was at Iowa State.
It looked as though Memphis would get run out of the gym in the first half when the Tigers trailed Southern Miss by 18 points. The Tigers cut the deficit to 40-29 at the half and then unleashed a 16-4 run late in the second half capped by a Will Barton three to give Memphis its first lead of the game.
What made Memphis' win more impressive is that it came without suspended forward Wesley Witherspoon.
The Tigers' best two wins of the season against Marshall and Southern Miss have now both come without Witherspoon. We'll see if they can sustain this success against Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday when Witherspoon returns.
(Thanks, @mastermania1 for the video)
- Joe Jackson