Saturday night, with 14:35 left in the game, the Memphis Tigers trailed the Gonzaga Bulldogs by 12 points. The Tigers’ Shaq Goodwin had fouled Sam Dower after a made layup, and as Dower headed to the line to shoot the freebie, I thought to myself, “Man. Another missed opportunity.”
Dower missed the free throw. A minute later Memphis’ Joe Jackson, listed at 6’1’’, but really standing at 5’11’’, climbed an invisible ladder and shut down the 7’1’’ Prezemek Karnowski by blocking a gimme dunk. Karnowski had absolutely had his way with the Tiger big men all day, but with that SportsCenter Top 10 worthy dunk, Joe Jackson, on his birthday no less, changed the game in an unspeakable way.
In front of a raucous 18,248 fans, the Memphis Tigers did what they haven’t been able to do at home so far this season. They came back and beat a team that had their number on their home court. They decided the outcome of the game instead of letting the opponent have their way. The Tigers said, “This is our house. We’ll be damned if you come in and make us look like chumps here.”
It felt good to have my heart pumping in the last 10 minutes of the game. In the Connecticut and Cincinnati losses, there was never a moment when I said to myself, “The Tigers have this.” But last night, with the rowdiest Tiger crowd I’ve seen since Derrick Rose, I knew this game was the Tigers’ to take.
Michael Dixon, Jr. and his comeback story continued by making a layup to put the Tigers ahead for the first time in the second half and for the last time overall with 1:12 left in the game. Nick King put in crazy productive minutes in the 2nd half by grabbing rebounds, diving for loose balls, and telling the world he belongs in the game when it matters most. And then there were Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford, the two seniors playing in their 100th win as Tigers, making FREE THROWS when it mattered.
The Tigers, after that Joe Jackson block, went on a run of monumental importance. They beat a top-25 opponent on their home court. They made a statement on ESPN after their team and their hometown hosted College Gameday. They came back from being down and out and won a game against a great opponent.
The 2013-14 Memphis Tigers might not be a Final Four team. But when they can get beat up by a very talented Gonzaga team and still come back and win the game, their fans have plenty of reasons to have faith in theem. There are lots of games left to play. The Tigers have to go to Cincinnati, Connecticut, and still have to host Louisville and SMU, as well as the AAC tournament. But last night, playing a damn good team, was as close to an NCAA Tournament game the Tigers will get before the Big Dance actually begins.
Ladies and Gentlemen, March is going to be fun. Buckle up for the ride.