Memphis 81, Vanderbilt 68
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)—The Memphis basketball season will end at Madison Square Garden—again.
For the third time in five years, Memphis reached the NIT semifinals and will make the familiar journey to New York.
Rodney Carney scored 26 points, and Darius Washington added 23 and seven assists to lift Memphis over Vanderbilt 81-68 Wednesday night in the quarterfinals.
The Tigers, who have won all three of their NIT games by double digits, will play Saint Joseph’s, a 58-51 winner over Texas A&M, next Tuesday night.
“It will be a dream to win there,” Carney said. “I’ve never won anything like that. Hopefully, we can.”
Anthony Rice had 11 points, and Duane Erwin scored 10 and grabbed 15 rebounds for Memphis (22-15).
Shan Foster led Vanderbilt (20-14) with 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting, including 6-of-11 from 3-point range. Julian Terrell scored 11 points for the Commodores.
On several occasions in the second half, Carney got free for a 3-pointer and drove against the Vanderbilt trapping press. He made five of his six shots in the half, helping Memphis build a double-digit lead.
“I knew we were at a standstill point and we needed a spark, so I took some shots and took some chances and the shots fell,” Carney said of his second-half performance.
Washington missed two of three free throws after time expired as the Tigers lost the Conference USA championship game 75-74 to Louisville on March 12, costing Memphis a trip to the NCAA tournament. The freshman guard sealed Wednesday night’s victory by hitting six straight free throws down the stretch.
“Unfortunately, we fell kind of short to go to the Big Dance, so now it’s just time to win the NIT,” Washington said.
Vanderbilt, coming off a thrilling last-second win over Wichita State on Monday night, stayed close until midway through the second half when Memphis scored nine straight points to put the game out of reach.
“I think we were not good enough to win this game,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “Memphis was faster than us. They were able to take advantage of the game with their speed and quickness.”
There were five ties and three lead changes in the first half, but the Tigers closed with an 8-2 run to carry a 36-29 advantage into the break.
Vanderbilt used its cutting offense to get to the basket and have open 3-pointers. Foster connected on three of his five shots from outside the arc in the first half to lead the Commodores with 11 points, including eight as Vanderbilt jumped to an early lead.
“The first half they made shots,” Erwin said. “They run the Princeton offense. That’s hard to guard. It takes awhile to adjust to it. Once we adjusted to it, it was easy to lock down.”
Memphis, meanwhile, tried to get its transition game running. Washington and Carney had nine points for the Tigers.
The Tigers opened the second half with Carney and Rice helping build the lead to 49-37 with 14:14 left.
“The end of the first half hurt us, and when we got behind in the second half, we had to try to extend the floor,” Stallings said. “That really plays into their favor.”
The Commodores stayed close with pesky defense and got to 51-48 on Dawid Przybyszewski’s 3-pointer.
Memphis answered with the 9-0 run to rebuild the lead to double digits.
“This team plays hard; this team is playing well,” Memphis coach John Calipari said.