Xavier beats No. 19 Memphis, ends streak
FEB 26, 2013 9:00p ET
"I think if I'm Xavier's president I'd give Chris Mack a lifetime contract," said Pastner Tuesday night after Xavier knocked off his No. 19-ranked Tigers 64-62 at the Cintas Center.
Xavier might have lost a 13-point lead in the second half, bringing back not-so-distant memories of Saturday's 17-point lead against Virginia Commonwealth that disappeared in a flash during an eventual 75-71 loss to the then-No. 24 Rams, but instead of wilting against an onslaught of Memphis three-pointers the Musketeers found a way to win their 16th game of the season and keep their heads in the hunt for an eighth straight NCAA tournament berth.
That's something the program is used to doing no matter what the talent level or perception from the outside.
The Musketeers (16-11) didn't return any starters from last year's team, which advanced to the program's fourth Sweet 16 in five seasons, and entered Tuesday's game without point guard Dee Davis who was injured against VCU.
"A lot of time your kids gain experience from negative moments, you learn from those and you get better," said Mack. "I love these kids. They don't win every game but they play their tails off. They scrap, they claw. They're not the most talented group (but) they believe in one another. We're far from perfect but I don't know how you can't be a fan of our team with the effort they put in for our fans every single night."
Memphis (24-4) had won 18 straight games since losing to Louisville on Dec. 15. The Tigers had won their last 11 straight road games. And Xavier was coming off that loss to VCU, a potentially demoralizing defeat in which the Musketeers went from having a chance to being 1½ games out of first place in the Atlantic 10 to dropping three games behind leader Saint Louis in the loss column with three games left in the regular season.
Xavier got off to a quick start behind senior forward Travis Taylor, who scored 11 of his team's first 14 points and had six early rebounds en route to a double-double performance of 18 points and 10 rebounds. Throw in two blocked shots in the first 57 seconds of play and it was apparent no VCU hangover existed.
The Musketeers lead by 11 points at halftime, 31-20. It was the lowest point total for Memphis in any half of play this season. They pushed their advantage to 13 twice, the last time on a pair of free throws by junior forward Isaiah Philmore with 17:02 left to play. A 9-2 Memphis run cut to lead to six points, 37-31, but Xavier answered with baskets by Taylor and Philmore to make it a 10-point game again.
The home crowd of 9,475 rose in unison to salute their team.
Memphis made five three-pointers amongst six made baskets in a span of 3:14 to take its first lead of the game, 50-49, with 6:27 remaining. Geron Johnson, a Dayton native from Dunbar High School, had three of those three-pointers, including the go-ahead shot.
Memphis still led, 57-55, until senior guard Brad Redford hit his second three-pointer of the game with 1:46 left to give Xavier the lead. As it turned out, the Musketeers would not relinquish that lead although, as Mack said, it wasn't perfect.
They were just 6-of-10 from the free throw line down the stretch. Up four points with 0:05 left, Justin Martin threw away an inbounds pass that Johnson converted into two points for Memphis. Leading by three points, 64-61, Taylor fouled Memphis' D.J. Stephens with .7 of a second left as Stephens received a long inbounds pass inside his own free throw line.
Stephens made the first free throw but banked the second off the backboard without hitting the rim, turning the ball over to Xavier.
When Semaj Christon received the inbounds pass, Xavier had survived to fight another day. Memphis certainly did its part to help Xavier, missing 12 of its 18 free throw attempts and giving up 18 second-chance points, including 12 in the first half, but you won't find any of the Musketeers nit-picking.
"After we had a lead in the second half against VCU and a big lead in this half and lost it in this game it was important for us to stay with it and get the win," said Redford. "We made enough winning plays and we're happy."
Xavier returns to A-10 play at home Saturday against Massachusetts before hosting Saint Louis and traveling to Butler. Making the NCAA tournament is likely going to take winning the A-10 tournament title but beating Memphis affirms that is anything but a far-fetched notion.
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