AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Now Josh Pastner can finally relax and Tiger Nation can settle down.
Memphis' head coach was well aware of the criticism, that he had yet to win an NCAA tournament contest in now his fourth season. There was the loss to Arizona two years ago and the one to the late Rick Majerus and Saint Louis last March. The fan base was beginning to get antsy, wondering whether he was the right man for this pressure-packed job.
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The Memphis Tigers drew the ideal assignment, facing a Saint Mary's team that had to get past Middle Tennessee State in the First Four just two days prior. The Gaels were led by athletically challenged Matthew Dellavedova, one of the top true floor leaders in the country. However, Randy Bennett's team doesn't have much else.
For a while, it looked as though Memphis would blow out the Gaels, but Delly kept his team within striking distance. Memphian Joe Jackson drilled a 3 with 3:53 remaining to push a four-point lead to 47-40, and Tarik Black added a bucket to make it a nine-point game, but the Gaels stuck around and had a chance to win it at the buzzer on a Dellavedova trifecta.
Does the win over Saint Mary's justify that this Memphis team is for real or that Conference USA isn't the minor-league conference that I've said it was all season long? Heck, no. The Tigers were supposed to win this game. Saint Mary's didn't really beat anyone of note all year long except for Creighton at home in the BracketBusters. But it didn't matter whether Pastner & Co. beat Saint Mary's or Alcorn State. This was a NCAA tourney victory, one that allows Memphis to finally breathe easy. The Tigers advanced past the Round of 64 for the first time since John Calipari bolted the city for Lexington in 2009.
Now Memphis takes on third-seeded Michigan State, which rolled past Valparaiso in the first game on Thursday afternoon. The weight of the city has been lifted for Pastner after the win over Saint Mary's, and now the young head coach will be playing with a Sweet 16 berth -- and house money -- against Tom Izzo and the Spartans.