Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette set a standard for inspired athletic performance this week, earning an Olympic bronze medal merely a few days after losing her mother to a heart attack. Tonight at FedExForum, Roburt Sallie took the floor with similar matters outweighing the significance of a basketball game. Only a few hours after learning his 65-year-old father has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, Sallie drilled five of six three-point attempts and scored 20 points for the most inspiring performance by a Tiger to date this season.
“There were some times I had tears,” Sallie said after his team’s 21st victory of the season. “Nobody really noticed, but I was out of it at times. To get that kind of news is devastating to my family. I only get to see my father about twice a year because of basketball. He seemed invincible to me; doesn’t have a gray hair on his head. He’s everything to our family. Coach [Josh Pastner] said if I don’t want to play, he understands. But I know how important this game was, for seeding in the [Conference USA] tournament.”
“Rob called me earlier today, and said, ‘Coach, I can’t play,’” said Pastner. “I talked to his dad, and I talked to Rob throughout the day. He was extremely upset. Before the game, I brought him into my office and he said, ‘Coach, I don’t know if I can go. My mind is out of it.’ But he said, ‘If you put me in, I’ll suck it up and deal with it.’ I told him, his dad would be very proud of the character he showed tonight.”
The Tigers needed Sallie’s shooting, and a revival from Elliot Williams, who was held to four points in the first half, but scored 22 in the second, including a three-pointer that gave the Tigers an 11-point lead with 7:20 to play and allowed Memphis to coast to the final buzzer. This was Williams’ 16th 20-point game of the season, a figure matched only by Penny Hardaway, Dajuan Wagner, and Chris Douglas-Roberts over the last 19 seasons.
Southern Miss scored the first eight points of the game and led by nine 10 minutes after tip-off. Back-to-back three-pointers from Sallie and Willie Kemp, though, closed the deficit to three points, and by halftime the Tigers held a 33-32 lead. The scored was tied eight minutes into the second half before the U of M went on a 15-4 run. Wesley Witherspoon was a key contributor, hitting nine of 10 from the free-throw line. Sallie, Williams, and Witherspoon combined to score 81 percent of the Tigers’ points.
R.L. Horton led Southern Miss with 24 points, while Gary Flowers scored 13 and grabbed 13 rebounds. The victory was the U of M’s 14th straight in the series with the Golden Eagles.
The Tigers travel to Birmingham Wednesday to take on UAB in a battle of teams tied for second place in C-USA. Memphis beat the Blazers, 85-75, on February 3rd at FEF.