Memphis Stuns UTEP: The Tigers Take Home Conference USA Title

Stephen IgoeContributor IMarch 12, 2011

Joe Murphy/Getty Images
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Despite facing a senior-laden UTEP team on their home floor, the young Memphis Tigers did the unthinkable and knocked off the Miners, 67-66, to earn their fifth Conference USA Championship in the last six years.

Two Joe Jackson free throws with 7.8 seconds remaining in the contest gave the Tigers their first lead of the day.

And that was all the time they needed, as UTEP's Christian Polk could not get his buzzer beater to go as it clanked off the front rim as time expired.

It was heartbreak for the Miners, who needed a victory to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

After dominating the whole game and leading by as many as 13 points, UTEP failed to get the job done down the stretch, allowing the Tigers to creep back into the game and eventually win it with a 17-4 run in the final six minutes.

Polk's back-to-back three-pointers gave the Miners a 62-50 lead with 6:13 remaining and looked to be the final dagger to Memphis.

But the play of the Conference USA Championship MVP, Jackson, and the outside shooting of teammate Chris Crawford, allowed Memphis to tie the game in the blink of an eye at 65 with 1:53 to go.

After a Gabriel McCulley made free throw that gave UTEP a 66-65 lead at the 1:30 mark, Memphis' Tarik Black went to the line on the other end of the floor with just over a minute remaining with a chance to tie the game or give his team the lead.

Instead, the freshman missed both from the line and the Miners got the rebound.

After running the shot clock down, the Miners couldn't extend the lead with a basket and Memphis got the ball back with a final chance.

Tigers' head coach Josh Pastner called a timeout with 10 seconds in regulation and drew up a play on the sidelines.

The ball went to Jackson after the stoppage and he drove in against UTEP's Julyan Stone and drew the shooting foul.

As if he had been there before, the freshman sank both free throws with ease to give his Tigers the lead, the championship, and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

On the Miners' side of things, their fate is now in the committee's hands. Although they have a decent resume, it is tough to see them getting an at-large bid with how things stand right now.