By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The University of Memphis brought out the best in Terrico White.
In a bit of role reversal, it was White, the athletic sophomore guard for Ole Miss, who led the way while normally solid Chris Warren struggled to find his range.
It was still a blue ribbon recipe for victory as the NIT No. 2 seed Rebels eliminated regional rival and No. 3 seed Memphis 90-81 before a sellout crowd of 8,218 at Tad Smith Coliseum Friday.
Ole Miss (23-10) will face the winner of today’s second-round game between 8th-seeded Jacksonville and 5th-seeded Texas Tech. The day will be Tuesday, the time TBA, but Tad Smith will be the place.
And a semifinal trip to New York City will be on the line.
“It felt good to come out and see the crowd supporting us,” said junior guard Zach Graham, one of five Ole Miss players in double figures with 19 points.
Much of that crowd was supporting Memphis. Tigers fans arrived early and were active and loud, buoyed by their pep band before the tip.
With the clock rolling, neither team could gain a significant advantage until White’s 3-pointer with 7 minutes, 25 seconds to play capped a 14-4 Ole Miss run to make it 64-51.
White finished with 21 points on 6 for 11 shooting. He was 3 for 4 from 3-point range, but some shots were of a much higher percentage – like an alley-oop dunk with an assist from Warren, one of two such plays.
‘Very good player’
“You look at some of their losses, and he didn’t play well. In the games they won, he played well,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “He made shots, got to the basket, got to the free-throw line. Give him credit, he’s a very good player.”
He’s a Memphis player, from Craigmont High School, who was not recruited by the city university until after he had committed to Ole Miss.
“Then it was too late,” White said. “This was big for me. I wanted to play good. I did that, and my team did that.”
Graham said the normally quiet White didn’t talk much about the game in the run-up, but they knew what it meant to him.
“You could tell what it meant to him by the way he played,” Graham said.
Warren hit only 1 of 6 3-point attempts but was 9 for 12 from the free throw line. He finished with 16 points, seven assists and one turnover.
Murphy Holloway had 11 points and eight rebounds, and Trevor Gaskins finished with 10 points.
Gaskins hit four clutch free throws down the stretch – Ole Miss was 26 for 37 from the line – but Pastner called him the first-half “dagger” for his two 3-pointers when Warren was struggling. That helped Ole Miss to a 37-33 lead at the break.
“We play nine different defenses, but they are basically all the same thing. We just shift formations. A lot of it is predicated on the complimentary players not producing,” Pastner said. “Tonight they produced.”
The Rebels shot only 38.7 percent in the first half, but once they found space against those defenses, shot 64 percent in the second half. Ole Miss hit only two of its first 10 3-point shots but finished 8 for 18 behind the arc.
Forward Angel Garcia, playing with a brace on one knee, led five Memphis players in double figures with 17 points.
Ole Miss protected the ball with eight turnovers against a team forcing 15.3 per game. The Rebels forced 13 turnovers and blocked nine shots.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy went with a more athletic frontcourt that included a lot of playing time for Terrance Henry, not much for senior DeAundre Cranston.
Memphis (24-10) cut an 11-point lead to five and had ball-possession with 11:25 left but could not convert in the paint, and the Rebels responded with the decisive run.
“We were a stop away from busting it open but couldn’t get it,” Kennedy said. “Thank goodness we were able to make free throws and keep our separation.”