The Tiger season came to a close Saturday afternoon in Auburn Hills, Michigan, Memphis falling to 9th-ranked Michigan State in the third round of the NCAA tournament. The U of M finishes the season with a record of 31-5, while the Spartans (27-8) advance to the Sweet 16 for the 11th time under coach Tom Izzo. Spartan guard Gary Harris scored 14 points before halftime and finished with a career-high 23 to lead all scorers.
Dreadful shooting — and a Spartan team that dominated with size and defensive pressure — doomed the Tigers. Memphis took 63 shots and missed 44 of them, the team's most misfires in a game this season. After starting the game four-for-16 and falling behind 26-13, the Tigers rallied with a 16-6 run before halftime. Geron Johnson hit a pair of three-pointers and senior forward D.J. Stephens blocked three shots to fuel the rally, which proved to be the last positive development of coach Josh Pastner's fourth season.
Coming out of the break, Memphis missed nine of its first ten shots, fell behind by 11 (43-32 with 12:45 to play) and things never improved. MSU big men Derrick Nix (13 points, 7 rebounds) and Adreian Payne (14 points, 11 rebounds) dominated at both ends with an all-too-predictable shut-down of their Tiger counterparts, Shaq Goodwin (scoreless with two rebounds) and Tarik Black (six points, two rebounds). The Spartans pulled down 41 rebounds to the Tigers' 25.
Junior guard Geron Johnson led the Tigers with 16 points and Joe Jackson added 12. No other Tiger scored more than six. Chris Crawford — the player who hit 19 three-pointers in three games at last week's Conference USA tournament — was 0 for five from three-point range.
The Tigers enter the offseason with six of seven rotation players eligible to return and with one of the top-ranked recruiting classes in the country on the way. At least three of those recruits — Nick King from East High School in Memphis, Austin Nichols from Briarcrest, and Kuran Iverson from Windsor, Connecticut — are expected to be in Pastner's 2013-14 rotation. Sophomore forward Adonis Thomas has long been expected to enter June's NBA draft, but his prospects have plummeted with a disappointing season.
Today's loss ends the college career of D.J. Stephens. C-USA's Defensive Player of the Year was a part of 106 victories as a Tiger.