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Basketball season ends in defeat to St. Louis

By Scott Hall
On March 20, 2012

  • The Tigers couldn’t get their offense going, falling 61-54 to the Saint Louis Billikens. David Minkin

The Memphis Tigers' dreams of a national championship came to an end in a 61-54 defeat to the Saint Louis Billikens in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Friday.
The Tigers' offense, which came in averaging over 75 points per game, was stopped dead and held to a season-low 54 points, with sophomore guard Will Barton the only player in double figures with 16 points. The Billikens built their game plan around slowing the game down and limiting Memphis' fast break points and controlling the tempo.
The plan worked well, as the Tigers came out slowly, unable to get into the offensive groove.
"We didn't make that extra pass," head coach Josh Pastner said. "We were settling for some contested shots. That kind of bit us in the butt, but we had some chances."
The two teams traded blows throughout the first half, with five ties and three lead changes. Neither team led by more than three points as the Tigers struggled against St. Louis' defense, while the Billikens took their time on offense.
A step-back jumper by freshman wing Adonis Thomas put the Tigers up by three with 28 seconds left in the first half, but a desperation heave by Saint Louis' Kwamain Mitchell at the buzzer tied the game at 23 at halftime.
The second half began much like the first, with Saint Louis packing it in defensively and the Tigers trying to get out and run. After falling behind 27-24 with 17:39 to go, the Tigers went on a 13-2 run to take a 37-29 lead six minutes later, keyed by six points from Barton and a dunk by senior forward Wesley Witherspoon.
"Throughout the game, I kept thinking 'We can win, no matter what,'" Barton said. "We had the lead, we had what we wanted. We felt like we were about to make our run, and it backfired on us."
The Billikens answered with a 14-5 run over the next five minutes to retake the lead, 43-42, with 6:24 remaining. Saint Louis hit two big three-pointers, one a last-ditch attempt at the shot clock buzzer, to take the lead for good. A second 9-1 run pushed their advantage to 52-44 with 3:02 remaining, after which the Tigers soon began to foul, trying to extend the game. St. Louis hit their free throws down the stretch and secured their first NCAA tournament win in 14 years.
After the game, Barton claimed full responsibility for the loss.
"It was my fault," he said. "I let the team down, I let my coaches down. We were never ourselves. (I was) too aggressive, took too many dumb shots trying to force it because I knew how important this game was, and how much I wanted it. Went about it the wrong way."
Barton finished the game with 16 points on 6-of-14 shooting. Witherspoon and sophomore guard Joe Jackson each finished with eight points, while junior forward Ferrakhon Hall added seven. Sophomore forward Tarik Black, who was limited by foul trouble, was held to just four points before fouling out late in the game.
"I'm very proud of our young men for a great season," Pastner said. "There were some ups and downs, but we stayed positive and stayed together."

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