Sun Dec 11 10:13pm EST
As he named the Memphis starting lineup before Sunday night's matchup with visiting Murray State, longtime Tigers public address announcer Chuck Roberts made an innocent mistake that will surely give him nightmares for weeks.
He introduced the team's head coach as John Calipari, inciting a chorus of boos from a fan base that clearly hasn't forgiven their former coach for bolting for Kentucky almost three years ago. Roberts apologized for his gaffe within seconds and introduced third-year coach Josh Pastner, who was more forgiving than the crowd.
"I told him if you're going to call me [Calipari], you've got to add some wins on my record," Pastner told the Memphis Commercial Appeal after the game.
Some in the crowd might have been longing for the Calipari days by the time they filed out of the FedEx Forum. Memphis rallied late against Murray State but fell 76-72 to the undefeated Racers, certainly not an unforgivable loss yet also not a game a preseason Top 20 team expects to lose on its home floor.
At 5-3 with games against Louisville, Georgetown and Xavier left on its nonconference schedule, Memphis hasn't taken the step forward it hoped so far this season. The Tigers have flexed their muscles against Belmont and Miami, but they also dropped a pair of games at the Maui Invitational and struggled against Murray State on Sunday.
A last-ditch comeback from an 11-point deficit in the final two minutes fell short when Chris Crawford's potential game-tying 3-pointer rimmed out with six seconds left in regulation. Will Barton continued his stretch of strong play with 27 points on 10-for-13 shooting, but the Tigers failed to exploit their size advantage down low, only getting Tarik Black five shots.
For Murray State, Sunday's victory was a breakthrough performance that legitimizes the Racers' 10-0 start. They had already beaten Dayton, Southern Mississippi and San Francisco, but it's this win that will vault Murray State into consideration for the Top 25 and establish the Racers as clear favorites in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Murray State coach Steve Prohm said last week the Racers deserve to be "in the at-large discussion" if they beat Memphis. History suggests it's a long shot considering the OVC hasn't put two or more teams in the NCAA tournament since 1987, but Murray State is in better position than most of its predecessors.
The Racers need to keep winning, of course, and root for Memphis, Dayton and Southern Mississippi to play well so that those wins look as noteworthy as possible in March. Their margin for error is paper-thin, but an at-large bid is no longer a possibility that can be fully dismissed.
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