Tigers Upset Southern Miss, 77-74, in Overtime
Feb. 28, 2009
HATTIESBURG, Miss. - When she was hired at the University of Memphis (12-17, 5-11 C-USA), head coach Melissa McFerrin said she wanted to be in the thick of things in league play with two weeks to play. The Tigers knocked down 11 three-point field goals and forced 20 USM (18-11, 11-5 C-USA) turnovers in a 77-74 overtime thriller in Hattiesburg, Saturday night, having a hand in the top seed for the C-USA tournament that begins Thursday.
Memphis knew coming in to the game that Southern Miss needed a win to secure the top seed in the Conference USA tournament. And USM came out of the gates quickly, trying to pressure the Tigers, who struggled against full-court defensive pressure at UCF Thursday night. But Memphis broke the press and knocked down four threes in the first 8:21 of the game to take a 16-15 lead in to the under 12 minute media timeout.
But Southern Miss found some success against a Memphis zone hitting three straight buckets in the paint to retake the lead. The Golden Eagles then knocked down a three in the corner off an in-bounds play to push the lead to 28-24 with 7:41 to play.
Memphis responded by sticking back an offensive rebound, with Copeland converting the and-one before Winchell knocked down her third triple of the season to tie the game for the third time at 30-30 with 6:23 to play. Leonard would add a jumper with her toe on the three-point line to push the Tiger lead to 32-30. But Southern Miss made quick history of that lead with a steal, layup and then a three from the corner from Kendra Reed. Memphis got the ball back with enough time for one shot, and senior Ashley Thornton knocked down a three-point field goal from the top of the key for not only her 1,000th career point, but also a 37-35 Tiger lead at the half.
USM came out with the goal of stopping Leonard and Winchell, who had combined for five of Memphis' six three-point field goals, and with neither able to even get a look at the basket in the first 6:50 of the second half, while USM got a combined eight points from their posts as Stephanie Helgeson and Pauline Love helped USM retake the lead at 43-41, forcing a Memphis timeout.
Southern Miss then stretched the lead to five at 53-48 before Leonard hit a three, cutting the Memphis deficit to two. Leonard added another triple on Memphis' next offensive possession, giving Memphis a lead at 54-53. But the home-standing USM squad would get four straight points from senior Andrea Barber to retake the lead, and again pushed it to five at 63-58 with 3:02 to play.
But Leonard had another answer from three-point range and then Ashley Thornton stuck back an offensive rebound, to tie the game for the eighth time in the game. Memphis then forced two tough USM shots and thought they maybe had had the stop, but USM again crashed the glass, with Andrea Barber sticking back the bucket for a 65-63 USM lead. Memphis then called their last timeout of regulation and set up a play. USM successfully stripped the ball from Paris Leonard, expecting the shot to be set up for the senior guard, but Ramses Lonlack picked up the ball in a mid-court scramble and pushed it ahead to a wide-open Savannah Ellis, who knocked down the bucket to tie the game at 65-65 with six seconds to play. Barber would get a shot off, but it didn't draw rim, and the Tigers went to overtime for the first time this season.
Memphis went right back to one of its hot hands, as Alex Winchell knocked down a three, then knocked down a pair of free-throws as USM called timeout with none remaining to give the Tigers a 69-65 lead with 3:48 to play in overtime. But the veteran USM squad was not going to quit, getting a pair of layups from Amber Eugene to tie the game again at 69-69.
But Memphis got an answer from Ellis again, as the sophomore center stuck back an offensive rebound off a missed Leonard three for a lead that Memphis would hang on to for the rest of the game. The Tigers would then go 6-for-6 from the free-throw line in the last 1:11, including a 4-for-4 stretch from Winchell hang on for the 77-74 victory.
Winchell led all players with 26 points, shooting 5-for-7 from three-point range and 5-for-6 from the free-throw line, adding six assists against four turnovers. Leonard added another 20+ point night, finishing with 21 points, including 5-for-7 from three-point range while playing 40 of the games 45 minutes. Ashley Thornton just missed a double-double, finishing with 11 points and nine rebounds. The triple to end the first half pushed the senior past her 1,000th career point. Ellis finished with eight points and six rebounds, adding a blocked shot.
Five different USM players scored double-digits, including 16 from Pauline Love and 12 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks from Stephanie Helgeson. Amber Eugene also added a double-double, finishing with 14 points and 11 rebounds and seven assists before fouling out of the game in overtime. Andrea Barber also scored double-digits, finishing with 10 points and seven assists. Kendra Reed also added 10 points in her senior night, adding three steals while playing a game-high 43 minutes.
The 2009 Conference USA Women's Basketball Championship is set to get underway on March 5-8 in New Orleans. For the past 13 years the league has awarded the championship trophy to eight different outstanding teams. Fans may purchase their tickets in advance by calling the University of Memphis Ticket Office at 901-678-2331 or by from Tulane Athletics at tulanegreenwave.com or 504.861.WAVE (9283). General admission All Session tickets are $50 for adults and $40 for youth, while Single Session prices are $10 for adults and $7 for youth.
Memphis will find out Sunday following the UAB at UCF game who their first round opponent will be at the tournament. An announcement will be posted on www.gotigersgo.com as soon as its available.