Memphis 73, North Texas 58
NEW ORLEANS (AP)—With another win against another unheralded foe, the Memphis Tigers didn’t prove much in their NCAA tournament opener.
But the way they beat North Texas 73-58 on Friday showed why the Tigers believe they’ll be ready to play the big boys when they finally get a chance.
Backup guards Andre Allen and Jeremy Hunt found themselves running the offense after two starters got in foul trouble midway through the first half. With big men Robert Dozier and Joey Dorsey getting physical, and freshman reserve Doneal Mack hitting some big shots, Memphis not only hung tough it went from being down by a few to being ahead by a lot.
The Tigers (31-3) were hardly tested again on the way to their national-best 23rd straight win.
“We did what we had to,” Memphis coach John Calipari said.
The Tigers will face seventh-seeded Nevada in the second round Sunday. Nevada beat Creighton 77-71 in overtime.
Chris Douglas-Roberts led the Tigers in scoring with 16 points, but 13 came in the second half. He missed the last 9:58 of the first half after picking up a technical foul that counted as his third personal.
Antonio Anderson was on the bench, too, partly because of two fouls and partly because of how well Allen was playing. Allen ended up staying in for a career-high 36 minutes, scoring 14 points and handing out four assists. He also was the driving force in a 14-4 run midway through the second half that ended any hopes North Texas (23-11) had of an upset.
“For some reason, at this time of year his motor starts revving up,” Calipari said of Allen, who played well in last year’s NCAA tournament.
These Tigers are different from the 2006 club that reached the regional finals, but they expect to get at least that far. After all, they haven’t lost since Dec. 20 and are seeded second in the South Regional.
The knock is that North Texas is the caliber of team Memphis usually beats. Memphis beat only three teams that made the NCAAs, none seeded higher than eighth. North Texas was 15th.
The Mean Green had to be thinking about that coming in. Then they found themselves up by six and still ahead by four when Douglas-Roberts got his third foul.
North Texas—which finished fifth in the Sun Belt, then got the league’s automatic berth by winning the conference tournament—lacked the players to keep up. Worn down by Memphis’ swarming defense that often included a full-court press, the Mean Green committed 19 turnovers. The Tigers also grabbed 11 more rebounds.
Keith Wooden led North Texas with 16 points. Calvin Watson had 13 and Kendrick Davis scored 12. But after Quincy Williams’ nine points, nobody else had more than one basket.
“If y’all could cut us open and look inside, you’d see how big our heart is,” Watson said. “We showed that today.”
Dozier had 11 points, seven rebounds and five blocks for Memphis, while Dorsey had nine points and 15 rebounds, including 10 by halftime.
Their inside presence was a big reason for a 12-2 run at the end of the first half that helped the Tigers go up by nine at the break, a 13-point turnaround since the player known as “CDR” went to the bench.
“If Robert Dozier played like he did in the first half, this will be a nice run for us,” Calipari said. “I told him at halftime that was the best half he’s played all year.”
“Joey was a monster,” Calipari said.
North Texas made one last push early in the second half, but it didn’t last. After Watson blew a fast-break dunk that would’ve gotten the Mean Green within four, the Tigers stretched their lead to 17—and had some fun along the way.
In a sequence that included three North Texas turnovers, Memphis got a fast-break layup by Allen, an NBA 3-pointer by Doneal Mack and a breakaway in which Allen slowed up then fed Douglas-Roberts for a dunk that thrilled a heavily pro-Memphis crowd that included former Tigers’ star Penny Hardaway.
Mack scored eight points and also drew heavy praise from Calipari.
“How good was he? For a freshman?” the coach raved.
Although North Texas wasn’t able to become only the fifth No. 15 seed to beat a No. 2, the Mean Green can go home comforted by their school record for wins and their second NCAA trip.
This game also was special for coach Johnny Jones, a Louisiana native who played and coached at LSU and used to coach at Memphis. He had a big crowd of supporters across from the North Texas bench.
“We came out in the second half being the aggressor, not on our toes,” he said. “I’m proud of our team. It was a very gutsy performance.”