RALEIGH – Nothing is ever easy for Memphis.
When Geron Johnson flushed home a put-back dunk in the second half of the NCAA tournament game against George Washington on Friday night, he pulled himself up on the rim and got a technical. When Memphis appeared ready to seal the game with 1:30 left and leading by five, Tigers guard Joe Jackson threw an ill-fated lob pass. When George Washington played eight minutes of the first half without its leading scorer Maurice Creek, Memphis built a lead it soon lost.
Memphis has more highly recruited players. Memphis has more seniors. Memphis is more athletic. And after a game with its lead against George Washington yo-yoing from double digits to dangerous, Memphis held on, 71-66.
George Washington never led, but in the final minute, the Colonials had a pair of three-pointers in the air that could have tied the game. Mo Creek fired up an airball in the final seconds, and Nemanja Mikic short-rimmed his attempt with 55 seconds remaining.
The Colonials cut the Memphis lead to 67-66 with 25 seconds remaining, but Memphis reserve guard Michael Dixon Jr. calmly swished both ends of a one-and-one with 9.6 seconds left.
The No. 8 Tigers advance to take on the winner of No. 1 Virginia and No. 16 Coastal Carolina, the nightcap here in Raleigh. Memphis flashed enough potential to scare UVA, if the Cavaliers advance. The Tigers also showed enough erratic play where UVA could grind them down with the its relentless consistency.
Michael Dixon Jr. led Memphis with 19 points and senior guard Joe Jackson scored 15 points. George Washington senior Isaiah Armwood led the Colonials with 21 points, but GW was ultimately undone by hitting just 2-of-12 three-pointers.
At halftime, Memphis had squandered some opportunities and led only only 31-26. The Tigers failed to further exploit Creek, GW’s leading scorer, whiffing on nearly the entire first half after getting 10 stitches above his right eye. He left the game 17:33 remaining and didn’t return for eight minutes; and he shot 0-4 in his 11 first-half minutes.
Creek's presence has been even more crucial since late January when Kethan Savage, GW’s second leading scorer, broke his foot. Savage said he was “50-50” for a return on Friday night, but never appeared.
Memphis didn’t make it easy. They never do. But ultimately the Tigers held on. March victories aren’t graded on style points, which is a good thing for Memphis.
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