EL PASO, Texas – C.J. Cooper gave UTEP a fleeting moment of hope when he went up for a 3-point attempt with 5 seconds left against No. 25 Memphis on Tuesday night.
By the time the ball bounced off the rim and he fell to the court, a whistle was blown and Cooper was going to the free throw line for an unfathomable final chance to at least tie the game.
Cooper missed the first free throw, made the second and purposely missed the third in an attempt to rebound the ball and get the win. Tarik Black was fouled getting the rebound for the Memphis.
When Black went to the line, he missed the front end of the 1-and-1. UTEP rebounded and Jacques Streeter heaved a final desperation shot as he stumbled to the court.
The shot was 2 feet short when the buzzer sounded.
Chris Crawford scored 15 points and Adonis Thomas added 11 as Memphis (26-4, 15-0 CUSA) remained undefeated in Conference USA with the 56-54 victory over UTEP.
The final seconds of the game were stressful for both teams.
"We tried to defend them, we had a good defense but Tarik did foul him and it was a good foul that was called by the official," Memphis head coach Josh Pastner said. "It just happened (Cooper) missed a couple free throws and we had a chance to win the game. Basketball is just a crazy game, but it's a beautiful game."
Julian Washburn led UTEP (16-13, 9-6) with 19 points and Cedrick Lang added 10.
Memphis out-rebounded UTEP 38-25, but the Tigers had 16 turnovers to UTEP's 12.
Memphis led by as many as seven points with 12:31 left before UTEP tied the game on a fast-break layup from Jacques Streeter with 9:26 left.
"We got beat by one of the better teams in the United States," UTEP head coach Tim Floyd. "They really did a solid job in all areas, on the road and our crowd was special. We had our opportunities at the free throw late and we didn't convert."
Earlier Tuesday, it was reported Floyd had been contacted by Southern California about its coaching job. Floyd said he was not offered a job but said he did have a conversation with athletic director Pat Haden.
Floyd left USC amid allegations of NCAA violations. While USC self-imposed sanctions on its basketball program over O.J. Mayo's recruitment, the NCAA did not find any violations committed by Floyd, his staff or any of his players while he was the head coach at the school.
It did not appear as if the media frenzy regarding the job had any effect on the team or the game.
For most of the first half, UTEP controlled the pace of the game, utilizing most of the shot clock and limiting Memphis to one shot per possession. Both teams accumulated 16 turnovers.
"We played a very good basketball team, a well-coached team that is hard, hard to beat on the road," Pastner said. "We had to grind it out and find a way."
Despite UTEP controlling the clock, Memphis led for most of the half, shooting 33.3 percent from the field and going 2 of 5 from the free throw line. UTEP's Chris Washburn made his first field goal of the game with 44 seconds left in the half and tied the game at 22. Memphis didn't score for over 3 minutes at the end of the half.
"UTEP is a good defensive team and Coach Tim (Floyd) had a good defensive game plan for us," Crawford said. "They were trapping us on the first pass and going to the box-and-1 at times."
The second half was a faster paced game as Crawford scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half. Memphis was 13 of 25 from the field and out-rebounded UTEP 19-10. Geron Johnson finished the game with 10 rebounds and seven assists.
"I thought Chris really stepped up in the second half, and when we needed some buckets, he made some big, big plays," Pastner said.
Julian Washburn scored 16 points in the second half for UTEP and John Bohannon finished with seven assists and three blocks.
Memphis out-rebounded UTEP 38-25 for the game, but the Tigers had 16 turnovers to UTEP's 12. The Tigers were 22 of 52 from the field and 7 of 13 from the free throw line. UTEP was 19 for 45 from the field and 13 of 19 from the free throw line.
The game saw 14 lead changes and 11 ties. The Tigers had 28 points in the paint to the Miners' 26.