Tigers oust Mississippi State

Published 11:50 pm Sunday, March 23, 2008

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Everyone knows Memphis can crank up the tempo and play a fast-paced game.

But if someone wants to get down and dirty? Well, the Tigers can slog it out with the best of ’em, too.

Joey Dorsey set the tempo with a performance that endeared him to football coaches everywhere, finishing with 13 points, 12 rebounds, a season-high six blocks, five fouls and an untold number of bumps and bruises, and top-seeded Memphis outscrapped Mississippi State 77-74 on Sunday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

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‘‘He was definitely the focal point, an animal,’’ Chris Douglas-Roberts said. ‘‘When he plays like that, our team is so much better, so much better. He was everywhere. He was helping everybody.’’

Plenty of other Tigers were lending a hand, too. Three more players finished in double figures, including 17 each from Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose, and Memphis outrebounded Mississippi State 45-37. The Tigers also had 19 assists to just five turnovers — one in the first half.

It was the ninth straight win for Memphis (35-1), which advanced to the round of 16 for a third straight year. The Tigers will play another bruiser Friday when they take on fifth-seeded Michigan State (27-8) in the semifinals of the South Region.

‘‘I love the frame of mind they’re in,’’ Memphis coach John Calipari said. ‘‘We may not be the best team. We may be one of them, we may not be anywhere near it, but I like the mental attitude of my team. They’re having fun playing. They competed against a good team and a physical team, and we march on.’’

Jamont Gordon had 21 points and Ben Hansbrough 19 for eighth-seeded Mississippi State, which hasn’t gotten out of the first weekend since the 1996 team that went to the Final Four.

‘‘Every team (Memphis) plays except one is going to have the feeling we have right now,’’ Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. ‘‘We had the last shot to tie the game up, that’s all you could ask.’’

After trailing by nine with 24 seconds left, the Bulldogs (23-11) cut the Memphis lead to 75-72 on Charles Rhodes’ rebound dunk with 10 seconds left. Rose was quickly fouled, but he could only make one of two and Gordon made a layup at the other end to make it 76-74 with 4.2 seconds left.

But Douglas-Roberts made one of two free throws, and Gordon’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer wasn’t close.

‘‘I dribbled off my leg and didn’t get a good shot at the rim,’’ said Gordon, who was 4-of-7 from behind the line Sunday.

The victory avenged — somewhat — Memphis’ only loss of the season. Another Southeastern Conference team, Tennessee, beat the Tigers on Feb. 23 and knocked them out of the No. 1 spot in the polls.

‘‘They have totally different styles,’’ Douglas-Roberts said. ‘‘Mississippi really slows it down, uses ball screens to control the game. They don’t really play alike at all.’’

That this game wasn’t going to be a thing of beauty was a given. Mississippi State and Memphis came into the tournament with two of the best defenses in the country, with the Bulldogs ranking second in the nation in both opponents’ field-goal percentage (36.8) and blocks (7.9). Mississippi State also had the nation’s leading shot blocker in Jarvis Varnado.

‘‘They heard some of the comments,’’ Calipari said. ‘‘They were ready to go in and say, ’Hey, we’re pretty good, too.’’’

Throw in what Dorsey took as a snub by Rhodes, and the big fella was ready to brawl from the opening tip.

‘‘(Rhodes) said, ’I hope Dorsey got better overnight,’’’ Dorsey said. ‘‘He’s a great player. He just had me so amped up for this game.’’

There was so much bumping and banging going on the players should have been wearing sponsor decals and fire suits, and anyone who entered the lane did so at his own risk. Diminutive Andre Allen — 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds — got hammered so hard when he took on the 6-8, 245-pound Rhodes late in the first half that the refs had Douglas-Roberts shoot the free throws so Allen could get checked out. He was fine.

But it was Dorsey who dictated the game. He had his hand in what seemed like every shot, and he was always around the basket scooping up rebounds. When the Tigers needed a big bucket, he was there, shooting 6-of-8 from the floor.

‘‘That’s Joey Dorsey when he’s right,’’ Calipari said. ‘‘That’s what he’s capable of, but it’s hard to be consistent like that because it’s really, really hard what he does.’’

Dorsey’s done harder, though. The senior was the first person in his family to graduate from high school, and he said he’s four credits shy of getting his college degree. Memphis fans have a soft spot for him, and the large contingent serenaded him with chants of ‘‘Jo-ey! Jo-ey!’’ when he fouled out with 24 seconds left.

‘‘I had so many people telling me I wasn’t going to do this. I was going to be someone just standing in a corner,’’ Dorsey said. ‘‘I didn’t want to live that life.’’