That buzz you can still hear and feel throughout the city of Memphis? It’s the aftershocks of Tigers guard Joe Jackson’s block of a 7-foot-1 Gonzaga center at the rim that keyed the Memphis comeback in a 60-54 victory Saturday, Feb. 8, at FedExForum.
Memphis forward Shaq Goodwin reacts to a narrow lead against Gonzaga late in the second half of the Tigers’ game Saturday at FedExForum. Memphis won, 60-54, giving the Tigers another key Top 25 victory.
(AP Photo/Lance Murphey)
It was Jackson’s 22nd birthday and he had promised himself that Gonzaga would not come into town and spoil the party.
Little did he know that in this contest of ranked teams (Memphis was No. 24 and Gonzaga No. 23 at tip-off), he would have to block a shot from Przemek Karnowski to prevent an 11-point Gonzaga lead from becoming a 13-point lead with less than 14 minutes to play.
Fortunately for the Tigers, Jackson was watching the play develop with point guard eyes. Zags guard David Stockton had the ball – “I know that’s John Stockton’s son, he can make the pass,” Jackson said with a smile – and Jackson saw Memphis forward Shaq Goodwin “gamble,” leaving Jackson to provide the ultimate “help” defense.
Stockton fed the ball to Karnowski and he went up to dunk. Jumping Joe Jackson went higher and blocked his shot.
“I just tried to make a play on the ball and not get dunked on,” Jackson said. “I’m what, 5-8? He’s 7-2.”
The more important numbers: at the time, the Tigers trailed 42-31 with 13:41 left.
“You could just feel it from the crowd,” Gonzaga forward Sam Dower said of the effect from Jackson’s block. “Big momentum change for them.”
From that point forward, Memphis outscored Gonzaga 29-12 and held the Bulldogs to a just two points in the last 5:15 as the Tigers closed on a 17-2 run.
While Jackson’s play was the most highlight worthy and the mood-changer, the Tigers (17-5) dug in defensively down the stretch – something they failed to do in American Athletic Conference losses to Cincinnati, Connecticut and SMU.
In the latest AP poll, five AAC teams are ranked: Cincinnati 10; Louisville 13; Memphis 20; SMU 23; Connecticut 24. So there are several tough games to come.
“These are the kinds of games you’ve gotta win to be a great team,” Tigers guard Michael Dixon said after scoring all 11 of his points off the bench in the second half.
The Tigers owned a 44-28 advantage on the glass and though Gonzaga outscored Memphis 38-28 in the paint, the Tigers’ perimeter defense held the team that was in second in the country in 3-point field goal percentage (41.8) to 2-for-16 (12.5 percent) behind the arc.
“Some of those were at the end of the (shot) clock, so that’s a little deceiving,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
Or maybe not. Gonzaga got the ball with 1:04 to play, down 55-54. They couldn’t get a shot off, the 35-second shot clock expiring and turning the ball back over to the Tigers. They made five of six free throws in the last 33 seconds to bring the victory home.
Memphis now has three wins over Top 25 teams – Oklahoma State, when No. 5 and Louisville, when No. 12, were the others.
“It is going to come down to defense at the end of the season,” Jackson said. “I told everyone in the huddle towards the end of the game that we have to continue to fight. I reminded them of the SMU game … we gave up down the stretch. I wanted them to remember how we felt after that loss. We came up with the stops we needed.”