Memphis rallies from a 10-point deficit to knock the Bulls out of the C-USA tournament. NIT, anyone?
By ROGER MILLS
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 9, 2000
MEMPHIS -- So silent was the South Florida locker room in the bowels of The Pyramid, you could hear the tear drops splash against the floor.
You could hear the disappointment bouncing off the walls.
You could hear the sound of defeat resonating with each heavy sigh.
But though equally devastated by their 60-58 loss to Memphis (15-15) in Wednesday's opening round of the Conference USA tournament, Bulls coach Seth Greenberg beseeched his team to hold its head high and begin thinking about the NIT.
The Bulls, Greenberg said, played hard and lost only because the Tigers, and in particular swing man Marcus Moody, made incredible shots at the end of the game.
"I told them I was proud of them, really, really proud of them," Greenberg said. "I thought they did everything we asked them to do. They left their hearts on the court.
"I think we deserve to continue to play (in the NIT). It would be a crime if we don't get a chance to continue to play. But, I'm not on the committee ... I don't control that."
Senior center Scott Johnson, who may have played his last game in a USF uniform, said his team has nothing to be ashamed of.
"It's really hard to describe how we feel right now, but we played South Florida basketball," Johnson said. "We played the game we wanted to play. You have to give them credit, they made shots. We contested those shots, but they made them anyway."
Trailing USF 58-57, Moody hit a pull-up, 16-foot jumpshot with 10 seconds left to complete a rally from a 10-point deficit and give the Tigers their first lead since the early stages of the first half.
"Shyrone (Chatman) came into the huddle and said, "We're not going to lose this game,' " said Moody, who hit a dramatic three-pointer to cut the lead to two with four minutes left. "We were not going to let them come in our house and win."
But even after Moody's heroics, the Bulls still had a sprinkling of hope. A free throw by Keiron Shine made the score 60-58 with 1.5 seconds left. The Bulls threw the ball the length of the court but Altron Jackson's desperation three-point shot at the buzzer bounced off the back of the rim."We got a good look and Altron got the shot and that's all you can ask for," point guard Reggie Kohn said.
Still, how did the Bulls let a 10-point lead dissipate? Why didn't they score in the last three minutes??
"I think the the guys really stepped it up defensively," said Tigers interim coach Johnny Jones. "We're a lot more defensive minded now and it's really helping us. We just tightened up the screws and focused down the stretch."
Added Waldon, who recorded game highs in points (22) and rebounds (14): "I don't know if they did anything different. We got the shots and they just didn't fall. It seemed like all of theirs were falling. That's the way it goes sometimes."
Early in the game, both teams struggled to find offensive consistency. Neither shot better than 46 percent in the first half and they combined for 23 turnovers, many on fast break opportunities.
The Bulls, in particular, played the first few minutes like a team with only one senior. USF began 1-for-10 and, had it not been for some spirited defense, would have found itself down big.
But Kohn, whose last game against the Tigers was one to be forgotten, fueled USF's first-half surge with four three-pointers, some from NBA range.
Ahead 36-27 at the break, the Bulls survived an early Memphis run in the second half and took a 52-42 lead on a three-pointer by Cedric Smith with 10:04 left. USF made two field goals the rest of the game.
"Right now, it's hard to think about the NIT," Kohn said. "We definitely want to continue to play and if it's in the NIT, we want to win it. But, right now, it's difficult to think about."
SEC TOURNEY: UF vs. Mississippi, 7:30 tonight. TV/Radio: Ch. 38; WHNZ-AM 1250.
ACC TOURNEY: FSU vs. Ga. Tech, 7 tonight. TV/Radio: ESPN; WDAE-AM 620.