By The Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Wesley Witherspoon scored 18 points, including the winning layup as time expired, to give Memphis a 73-71 victory over St. John’s in the opening round of the National Invitation Tournament on Wednesday night.
Witherspoon drove down the left side of the lane and lofted a shot high off the glass over Anthony Mason Jr. The ball bounced on the rim and dropped through as the horn sounded for the victory
But Witherspoon was down on the ground, and couldn’t see his winning basket.
“I saw it when I shot it, and it hit the top of the backboard and rolled around a little bit,” Witherspoon said. “When I shot it, I didnt think it was going to go in. Then I heard the crowd erupt. That’s when I knew it was good.”
Officials reviewed the play, and ruled the basket was made before time expired.
Mason, who finished with 17 points, had connected on a 3-pointer from way beyond the arc with 17 seconds remaining to tie the game at 71, setting the stage for Witherspoon’s final play.
“Mason did a good job on him,” St. John’s coach Norm Roberts said of defending the Tigers’ winning play. “The kid made a great layup, I mean a great layup. They made big plays, and they had the ball last.”
Elliot Williams scored 14 for Memphis (24-9). D.J. Kennedy led the Red Storm (17-16) with 18 points.
The Tigers and Ole Miss will play in the NIT’s second round on Friday in Oxford, Miss. Ole Miss defeated Troy 84-65 on Wednesday.
Memphis led 44-35 at halftime after an accurate shooting display, particularly from outside the arc.
The Tigers missed only three of their 13 shots from 3-point range (76.9 percent), part of shooting 60 percent (15 of 25) overall.
“We knew we had to get out and pressure them more and not make it easy for them,” Roberts said of a second-half change in defensive strategy. “I thought we let them walk into some 3s.”
Roberts was right. As well as Memphis shot in the first half, the Tigers couldn’t keep pace. The lead dwindled at the start of the second half. St. John’s pulled within one several occasions near the midway point of the half.
The Red Storm finally took the lead 60-59 when Mason connected on a 3-pointer with 4:10 remaining.
St. John’s was still leading 67-66 when Witherspoon hit a 3-pointer from the corner with Kennedys hand in his face. Memphis never trailed again, although Mason’s 3-pointer with 17 seconds remaining left the game in Witherspoon’s hands.
“I’d like to tell you that I devised an unbelievable play,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said, “but I always say the best offense is a breakdown offense. When you have players, you let them play.”