POSTED: Saturday, March 12, 2011 - 1:32pm
UPDATED: Sunday, March 13, 2011 - 4:54pm
Joe Jackson hit two free throws with seven seconds left, lifting Memphis to a 67-66 win over UTEP in the Buick Conference USA Championship final on Saturday at the Don Haskins Center.
It was the Tigers' (25-9) only lead of the game.
Christian Polk, who scored a career-high 27 points for the Miners, missed a potential game-winning jumper in the final seconds. Polk was 11-for-14 from the field.
UTEP dropped to 25-9 and will await word of its postseason fate on Sunday.
The Miners pounded the Tigers at the Don Haskins Center on Feb. 26, 74-47. And for a while it looked like a similar outcome was in store for the rematch, as UTEP bolted to a 9-0 lead in the first few minutes behind a raucous crowd of 11,769. But Memphis settled down, and rallied to tie the game twice in the first half, the last at 23 on a layup by Tarik Black with 5:51 remaining.
UTEP, vying for 20 home wins for only the second time in school history, built a 36-25 lead with a minute to go in the first half, and maintained a comfortable margin for most of the second period. But the Tigers refused to go away.
Polk's three pointer put the Miners ahead 62-50 with 6:13 remaining, but UTEP scored only one field goal the rest of the game -- a Gabe McCulley dunk with 2:41 left.
With his team trailing 64-59 and two and a half minutes to play, Jackson took control. His three-point play sliced the deficit to 64-62. After Julyan Stone split two free throws to push the Miners' lead to 65-62, Chris Crawford buried a three pointer to knot the score with 1:53 remaining. McCulley made one of two free throws with 1:30 to go before Jackson, following a timeout, drove to the basket, was fouled and hit the game-winning foul shots.
The Miners shot 52.2 percent in the second half, but were outscored 40-30, as Memphis went 11-for-13 from the line to UTEP's 2-for-5. The Miners finished 9-for-16 from the stripe.
UTEP had only one player in double figure scoring for the first time this season. Jackson led the Tigers with 17 points. Crawford added 15, while Black and Will Barton chipped in with 11 apiece.