RALEIGH — Senior guard Michael Dixon Jr. wasn’t ready to see his Memphis basketball career end.
Dixon, a senior guard, drilled a 3-pointer with two minutes remaining and the Tigers clinging to a two-point lead, then added four free throws in the final 9.6 seconds as eighth-seeded Memphis held off ninth-seeded George Washington 71-66 on Friday night at PNC Arena.
Dixon led Memphis with 19 points as the Tigers (24-9) advanced to a third-round meeting Sunday in the NCAA tournament against No. 1 seed Virginia or No. 16 Coastal Carolina.
George Washington (24-9) rallied from two 10-point deficits in the second half, the last one with 9 minutes, 38 seconds left. The Colonials still trailed by nine, 64-55, when Joe Jackson scored on a fast break with 3:55 remaining for Memphis, only to see GW run off the next seven points and nearly catch the Tigers.
Memphis coach Josh Pastner took a timeout at 2:17, and 12 seconds later Dixon buried a 3-pointer from the left wing that gave the Tigers some room to breathe.
The Colonials weren’t done, though. Maurice Creek’s two free throws and a driving layup by Joe McDonald narrowed the gap to 67-66 with 13.6 seconds to go. But Dixon made two free throws, and after Creek came up empty on a 3-pointer that could have tied the score, Dixon capped it with two more free throws with just four-tenths of a second left. Dixon ended up 5-of-5 at the line, and Jackson backed him with 15 points.
Isaiah Armwood, a 6-9 senior, led GW with 21 points, 15 of them in the second half. Kevin Larsen, a 6-10 sophomore from Denmark, added 16 points, but only four in the second half as the taller Colonials held a 42-36 edge on points in the paint. The difference for Memphis came on the fast break, where the Tigers had a sizeable 15-4 advantage.
It looked early like Memphis would use perimeter shooting to take charge, as senior guard Chris Crawford came out firing. He made 3 of 6 3-pointers in the first 11 minutes to help the Tigers to a 23-16 lead before GW coach Mike Lonergan took a timeout at the 9:28 mark.
The lead would reach 10 points at 26-16 on a three-point play by Dixon with 7:56 left in the half before the Colonials made a serious run at the Tigers. Memphis helped out by missing 10 of 11 shots over the next five minutes, plus all three of their free throws. Crawford especially cooled off as he ended 3-of-10 overall on 3-pointers. Memphis was 6-of-22 from outside the arc for the night.
Memphis started to pull away midway through the second half, using a 6-0 run to go up by 10, 51-41, by the 12:02 mark on two free throws by Austin Nichols. The Tigers hit 9 of their first 13 shots of the second half.