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Memphis rallies past UTEP to claim C-USA title

Mar 12, 2011 - 7:40 PM El Paso, TX (Sports Network) - Joe Jackson hit a pair of free throws with 7.8 seconds remaining to give Memphis its first lead of the game and UTEP's Christian Polk missed a shot at the buzzer, as the Tigers pulled out a 67-66 victory on the Miners' home floor in the Conference USA championship game.

Jackson finished with 17 points for Memphis (25-9), which claimed the title for the fifth time in the past six years. The Tigers, who dropped a 74-47 decision to UTEP in El Paso on February 26, closed this contest on a 17-4 run and will return to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence.

Chris Crawford added 15 points in the victory, while Will Barton and Tarik Black each chipped in 11. Black also contributed 10 rebounds.

Polk poured in 27 points to lead UTEP (25-9), which fell in the championship game for the second year in a row. The Miners, who could still be headed to the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid, lost to Houston in last year's title game.

Memphis trailed by as many as 13 points early in the second half, but tied it at 65-65 on a three-pointer by Crawford with 1:48 to play. Gabriel McCulley then hit one free throw at the other end to give UTEP the lead.

Black was fouled with 61 seconds to play and the Memphis freshman missed both free throws. The Miners worked the shot clock down and Julyan Stone could not convert on a drive to the hoop, giving Memphis possession with 25 seconds to play.

Jackson was fouled on his way to the basket and calmly sank both from the stripe to put the Tigers on top for the first time. The Miners raced the other way and had the ball deflected out of bounds with two seconds remaining. The inbound pass went to Polk, who missed a tough shot from the right wing with three Memphis defenders in his face.

The miss by Polk was just his second on 13 field-goal attempts. He was the only Miner in double figures, as Claude Britten and Jeremy Williams each scored eight points in defeat. Stone finished with 11 rebounds and seven assists.

UTEP scored the first nine points of the game, but Memphis rallied to within 13-12 and tied the game for the first time at 21-21 on a Will Coleman layup with 8:21 left in the first half. Another 9-0 run gave the Miners a 36-25 edge before two Memphis free throws in the final minute sent the Tigers into the locker room down nine points.

The Miners built their advantage to as many as 13 at 43-30 early in the second half. The Tigers cut it to six with just under seven minutes remaining, but Polk drilled three-pointers on the next two UTEP possessions to push the Miners' lead back to 12 at 62-50.

Game Notes

Memphis went to the NIT last spring after four straight years in the NCAA Tournament...UTEP was an at-large NCAA selection last year...Jackson also had seven assists.