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Kansas City, Mo. After overcoming heartbreak and tragedy just to get to the NCAA tournament, the Matadors of Cal State-Northridge could not get past the greatest game of Roburt Sallie's life.
Sallie, averaging 4.5 points all year for Memphis, scored 35 and the second-seeded Tigers beat the plucky Matadors 81-70 Thursday, dodging what would have been one of the biggest upsets in tournament history.
Sallie kept Cal State-Northridge at bay during a lackluster first half for Memphis (32-3) and wound up hitting 10 of 15 3-pointers, a first-round tournament record.
The Matadors (17-14), who lost one of their top players in a traffic accident during the season and another to a burglary charge, never seemed intimidated despite being 19-point underdogs. Taking advantage of miserable shooting by most of the Tigers, Northridge led much of the second half and went up by six points with 10:08 to play.
The capacity crowd, decidedly in favor of the underdogs, roared when Vincent Cordell's bucket put the Matadors up 62-56. But then Sallie hit another 3-pointer and Antonio Anderson, hardly a factor most of the game, launched a decisive 9-0 run that saved last year's national runners-up.
Since the NCAA went to a 64-team format in 1985, only four No. 2 seeds have lost to a No. 15 in the first round. Sallie's 10 3-pointers erased the first-round record of nine, set by Michigan's Garde Thompson in 1987. At one point in the first half Sallie scored 11 straight points for the Tigers, and hit his first five shots from beyond the arc.
The Tigers were trailing 64-61 when Anderson, who had three fouls and one point early in the second half, finally came to life. The shorter Matadors missed five straight shots and failed to pull down a single offensive rebound, and Anderson's bucket made it 64-63.
Then the 6-6 senior hit a 6-footer to put the Tigers on top to stay.
In a back-and-forth flurry midway through the second half, freshman guard Tyreke Evans put in a bucket and was fouled, and made the free throw for a 56-55 Memphis lead. But Willie Galick quickly erased that with two foul shots for the Matadors.
Anderson's bad pass turned the ball back to Northridge and Rodrique Mels sank a 3-pointer, then following another turnover, Cordell's bucket gave the Matadors a 62-56 lead.
Mels led five players in double figures for the Matadors. Kenny Daniels and Tremaine Townsend each had 14, Mark Hill added 13 and Galick 12.
Evans, the Memphis freshman who replaced Derrick Rose, the No. 1 overall pick in the last NBA draft, finished with 15 points and Anderson wound up with 13.