Memphis State is going to the Final Four, but its victory today was less than glorious. In fact, it might have been a little shady.
Forward Keith Lee had 23 points and 11 rebounds despite foul trouble and made four free throws down the stretch as Memphis State defeated Oklahoma, 63-61, at Reunion Arena.
Oklahoma's Anthony Bowie missed an 18-foot jumper at the buzzer to send the Tigers to the Final Four for the second time. They will play the winner of Sunday's Southeast Regional final between Villanova and North Carolina Saturday at Lexington, Ky.
But the Tigers didn't win the game as much as endure it, and a call that was never made against them might have decided it.
Wayman Tisdale, Oklahoma's leading scorer, was held to 11 points, fighting off gangland-style triple-teaming inside most of the day. His exit was quick and bitter.
"We had some guts, we played them man for man," he said. "They didn't have any guts."
The Tigers (31-3), instead of rejoicing, were reduced to defending their victory in a game of missed opportunities and sloppiness. But they got superb play from Lee despite three first-half fouls. It was his 12th straight game in foul trouble. They also got 12 points from guard Andre Turner, whose ball handling saved them against a press in the waning minutes.
"We played to our strengths," said Memphis State Coach Dana Kirk, who is going to the Final Four for the first time. "You have to do what is best for your team. We played the way we needed to play."
But it was some suspect ball handling by Turner that made Memphis State's victory less than decisive. The Tigers hung on to what was never more than a six-point game in the second half on one crucial play with eight seconds remaining. Darryl Kennedy made a 17-foot jumper from the right side to bring the Sooners within two, and Oklahoma (31-6) took its last timeout.
On the inbounds play, Turner raced upcourt, briefly lost control of the ball, and appeared to palm it. But there was no call. Oklahoma's Tim McCalister was forced to foul Turner. It was McCalister's fifth. Turner missed the front end of his one-and-one, and Kennedy swung the ball upcourt to Bowie, whose shot bounced off the rim.
"Everybody in the place knew it was a turnover," Oklahoma Coach Billy Tubbs said. "Play it back 500 times and it's still going to be a turnover. You've got three guys out there who are going to determine your future and you just pray they have the guts to make the call."
Kirk shrugged off the controversy but didn't bother to comment on whether Turner palmed the ball.
"There are a lot of gripes I could have," he said. "A call here and a call there are going to be missed. You have to play ball."
Turner studied the box score. "I had one turnover in the first half, and I finished with one turnover," he said.
If Memphis State ever can keep 6-foot-10 Lee and 7-foot William Bedford on the court at the same time, the Tigers could have a chance in the Final Four. Both spent most of the afternoon in foul trouble, as usual, each committing three in the first half. Lee got his fourth with 12:35 left and Bedford his fourth five minutes into the second half.
"We were thoroughly concerned about the foul trouble," Kirk said. "I needed three bottles of Maalox and I don't even drink the stuff."
Bedford, who had 12 points, and Lee had a variety of accomplices in shutting down Tisdale, who nevertheless had a game-high 12 rebounds. The Olympian took only 10 shots and couldn't get a pass inside.
"How do you get it to a guy who's in a half nelson?" Tubbs asked. "He was being pounded all day. But that's nothing new. He's one of the most abused players in the nation."
Bowie's missed jumper at the buzzer could easily have gone in. They had been falling all day for him, and he finished with 10 points.
"I don't fault the shot," Tubbs said. "He had the courage to take the shot. But I would rather have had the ball in front of our bench with eight seconds left."