MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)—Texas-El Paso coach Tony Barbee almost made his years coaching at Memphis pay off. Luckily for the top-ranked Tigers, they had enough talent to overcome the inside knowledge and a horrendous shooting performance.
Chris Douglas-Roberts scored with 2:31 left to break a 60-all tie, keeping Memphis as the country’s only undefeated team with a 70-64 victory Saturday over Texas-El Paso.
“A lot of how we played is because of Tony’s preparation,” Memphis coach John Calipari said of Barbee, who was his assistant here between 2000 and 2006.
Barbee recruited some of these Tigers and knows them well. He also runs the same offense with the Miners. But Douglas-Roberts cautioned that Barbee didn’t provide a new blueprint to challenge the Tigers.
“Other teams don’t play like that and other teams don’t have Tony Barbee for a coach,” Douglas-Roberts said.
The Tigers (21-0, 7-0 Conference USA) continued their best start ever, topping the 20-win start by the 1985-86 squad. They also extended the nation’s longest home-court winning streak to 44 in the first of a four-game homestand.
This was the tightest game this season for a team that had been winning league games by an average of 25.7 points.
Credit goes to Barbee and his Miners (13-7, 4-3)—though Barbee refused to accept a moral victory.
“You cannot miss when you have opportunities, and we missed a lot of close buckets near the end,” Barbee said. “They thrive on spurts, run outs and on those 15-2, 16-4 runs, and then they’re up by 30 and the game is over.”
Barbee shifted defenses constantly, using a variety of zones and an occasional switch to man-to-man to make the Tigers uncomfortable. Whenever the Tigers looked ready to start running, Barbee took a timeout.
“We kind of adjusted to the things he was throwing at us,” Tigers junior forward Robert Dozier said.
“We just weren’t making shots. They were switching defenses as we called the play. It was kind of confusing, but guys started catching on to it. Once we did that we executed, but we just didn’t knock down shots.”
The teams swapped the lead five times with nine ties, and Randy Culpepper hit a 3-pointer that gave the Miners a 60-58 lead—their first since 21-17— with 3:44 left.
Derrick Rose tied the game with a layup. Then Stefon Jackson, the league’s leading scorer, missed a shot, got his own rebound and turned it over by walking under the basket. Douglas-Roberts then scored to put Memphis ahead to stay.
Rose finished with 13 of his 17 points in the second half. It was the Tigers’ worst shooting performance of the season at 36.4 percent (24-of-66), including 1-of-17 from 3-point range. They did outrebound UTEP 52-42 but countered that by going 21-of-41 at the free throw line.
“We can’t make a free throw,” Calipari said. “We missed 20.”
At one point, Calipari could only yell, “Oh my God” after watching Dozier nearly miss the basket completely on a free throw attempt.
Jackson finished with a team-high 27 points. Kilgore added 10 for UTEP, which never trailed by more than seven.
The Tigers stumbled through the first half and were lucky to go into halftime up 32-28.
“We shot the ball terrible,” Dozier said. “But we still found a way to win. That’s all that matters.”
Memphis was lucky to be at home for this game, needing the crowd that stayed on its feet down the stretch trying to provide an extra boost.
Douglas-Roberts hit the lone 3 with 5:15 left in the first half. Even when Andre Allen held the ball for a last shot before halftime, his 3 bounced off the rim, and Joey Dorsey was called for his second personal foul. Dorsey fouled out with 5:43 to go.
Kilgore hit the first of two free throws to keep the Miners close.
Calipari had been trying to warn his Tigers to expect tight games the rest of the season, even at home, because opponents want to knock off the No. 1 team.
“I love winning. It doesn’t matter how,” Calipari said. “We can win with a half-court bank shot, and I’m happy. … We found a way to try to win that game.”