HATTIESBURG, Miss. - The last 4 minutes of a game are special to Memphis’ Derrick Rose.
The freshman point guard scored the second-ranked Tigers’ last seven points, including four straight free throws in the last 2 minutes, to clinch a 76-67 win over Southern Mississippi on Saturday as Memphis struggled late for the second time in eight days.
“He has a will to win like no other and I think he and Chris (Douglas-Roberts) just said, ’We’re not going to lose this game,”’ Memphis coach John Calipari said.
Rose finished with 23 points and Douglas-Roberts added 22 as they combined to score Memphis’ last 16 points to secure its second straight win after losing 66-62 last Saturday to Tennessee losing its No. 1 ranking and chance at an unbeaten season.
The Tigers (28-1, 14-0) clinched their third consecutive Conference USA regular-season title with their 37th straight league win.
Memphis struggled against Southern Miss (15-13, 7-7) almost from the beginning. The Tigers led 34-31 at halftime, but only after a quick spurt to take the lead in a back-and-forth game.
The Golden Eagles started the second half on a 12-4 run that gave them their biggest lead of the game. The highlight of the run came when R.L. Horton hit a 3-pointer, then was fouled by Willie Kemp on the right wing. Horton made the free throw to put Southern Miss ahead 43-37 with 15:04 left.
After scoring one point in the first half, Rose hit three 3-pointers, converted a three-point play and made six of seven free throws to clinch the win. His 3 with 5 minutes left made it 64-56 and Southern Miss would get no closer than three points the rest of the way.
“I didn’t want to lose,” Rose said. “I just did everything not to lose.”
Jeremy Wise led Southern Miss with 26 points, mostly on slashing drives to the basket. Craig Craft added 14 points for the Eagles and Sai’Quon Stone had 11.
The teams were testy to start with and a minor scuffle broke out on the court during warmups between Memphis’ Joey Dorsey and Stone. Southern Miss then stood toe to toe with the Tigers in front of the first sellout crowd (8,129) at Green Coliseum since December 1996.
Stone gave Dorsey a shove when the two accidentally bumped each other at the entrance to the court about 30 minutes before the game started. Stone said the push was in return for a shove Dorsey gave a Southern Miss player when the teams played in Memphis earlier this season.
“They try to be intimidating, especially on defense,” Stone said. “It’s fun. It’s not serious. We just wanted to let them know we can take it at them.”
The Golden Eagles shot 54.2 percent against the Tigers, who were No. 3 in the nation in field goal percentage defense coming into the game (37.8 percent). Southern Miss hit 57.1 percent of its 3-pointers, nearly 27 percentage points higher than Memphis usually allows.
“They broke us down good,” Calipari said.
Rose got better as the game went on, however. He scored 11 points during a 5-minute span that turned a 51-50 deficit into a 64-56 lead with 5 minutes left, the biggest of the game to that point.
“We just made plays with 3 minutes to go,” Calipari said. “Great execution, great finishes.”
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