Auburn Hills, MI – Joe Jackson scored 14 points and Memphis warded off a furious late comeback attempt from Saint Mary's to record a 54-52 victory in an NCAA Tournament Midwest Region second round clash.
Jackson added seven assists and six rebounds to lead the sixth-seeded Tigers (31-4) into a matchup with No. 3 seed Michigan State on Saturday. The Spartans advanced with a 65-54 decision over Valparaiso earlier in the day.
Tarik Black and Adonis Thomas each contributed 12 points for the Conference USA champion Tigers, who built a 15-point first-half lead they nearly squandered after the Gaels' Eividas Petrulis buried a 3-pointer with two seconds left for a 54-52 game.
Saint Mary's then forced a turnover on the ensuing inbounds play, but Matthew Dellavedova's long-range attempt at the buzzer clanged off the rim.
"As soon as Delli got the ball in the corner, we all thought it was going to go in," said Gaels center Brad Waldow. "We knew it was going to go in, but it just didn't fall."
Missed shots were a common theme for 11th-seeded Saint Mary's (29-6) throughout the game. Memphis held the Gaels to a 32.8 success rate from the field, with Petrulis' make only the team's third in 15 tries from beyond the arc.
Saint Mary's, which reached the second round via a 67-54 win over Middle Tennessee State Tuesday in Dayton, came into the contest averaging better than 75 points per game. Dellavedova, the Gaels' top scorer on the season, mustered just 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting.
Waldow did make good on 7-of-11 shot attempts to pace Saint Mary's with 17 points.
The Tigers appeared in excellent shape after taking a 51-44 advantage into the final minute, but poor execution down the stretch enabled Saint Mary's to place the outcome back in doubt.
Memphis made just three of its seven foul shots in the waning stages, and Waldow's tip-in of Petrulis' missed 3-pointer with 17.9 seconds remaining brought the Gaels within 53-49.
The Tigers' D.J. Stephens did sink his first free-throw try after being fouled after Waldow's bucket, but missed the second. Saint Mary's quickly got down the court and got the ball in the hands of Petrulis, who didn't misfire this time to create a two-point differential with two seconds showing.
Jackson then had the inbounds pass from Thomas go off his hands and out of bounds under a heavy Saint Mary's press, giving the Gaels one last try for a win or tie.
"It was my fault, but I just wanted to get it in to one of our best free throw shooters," Thomas said of the play. "It was on me. I should've called a timeout at the end, but the game was going so fast."
The Tigers were able to get a hand in Dellavedova's face as he fired up a 23- footer from the right wing, however, and the standout point guard's shot bounced off the iron to allow Memphis to move on.
"[I] couldn't be more proud of a team," Gaels head coach Randy Bennett said afterward. "They put everything they had into that game. We didn't shoot the ball great. Some of that has to do with their defense, but I couldn't be more proud of a team."
The Tigers trailed by an 11-9 score nearing the midway mark of the first half, but seized control via a 19-2 run over the next seven-plus minutes. Jackson dropped in eight points during the pivotal burst, while Memphis' pressure defense continually rendered the normally sharp-shooting Gaels into a flurry of missed shots and turnovers.
During that sequence, Saint Mary's went just 1-of-10 from the field and committed three giveaways, the last of which Black converted into a 3-point play that staked the Tigers to a 28-13 lead with 2:54 to go before intermission.
"We knew that Dellavedova was the floor general for this team," said Stephens, who came up with a career-high eight blocks to spearhead Memphis' defensive charge. "The plan for the game was to pretty much keep the ball out of his hands as much as we could, make somebody else have to initiate the offense. And we were pressing, making sure he couldn't get the ball and bring it up the floor, and it kind of threw them out of rhythm a little bit."
The Gaels managed to cut into the deficit by the conclusion of the period, scoring nine of the final 13 points to get within 32-22 at the half despite shooting just 31 percent as a team.
Memphis went cold after the break, however, hitting on a poor 29.2 percent of its field goal tries in the second half to enable Saint Mary's to close the gap further.
Dellavedova knocked down a triple to open the frame and Waldow followed with a layup shortly after to trim the Tigers' edge to 32-27, and it was a 3-point game with 11 minutes left before Memphis put together a brief 5-0 spurt to go ahead by a 41-33 count.
Stephens' eight blocks were two above his previous career best of six set twice previously ... Memphis is now 4-0 in its first NCAA Tournament game when seeded sixth in its respective region, also prevailing as a No. 6 in the 1984, 1992 and 1995 editions ... The Tigers lost in the second round in each of the last two years, falling to Saint Louis as an eighth seed in 2012 and to Arizona as a No. 12 the previous year ... Saint Mary's, which fell to Purdue as a No. 7 seed in Columbus in last year's tournament, is now 4-8 all-time in NCAA Tournament play ... Dellavedova finishes his career as the Gaels' all-time leader in points (1,933) and assists (768).