Andre Turner, the vest-pocket point guard who led Memphis State to the Midwest Regional title last Saturday, speaks in a Memphis soul stew of Scriptural phrasings and tabloid-headline buzz words. His valedictory to his teammates after the Tigers' 63-61 chorus of "Later" to the Sooners of Oklahoma might have gone something like this: Let's not jubilate too much, moresoever we cast an eye out to some new foes. Because none of them is what you would tab a, so to speak, pushover.
The 5'10" junior called the Little General was spouting that sort of argot in Dallas. He would circumnavigate a press, then circumlocute the press. He's not merely the proverbial coach on the floor, though he's certainly that. "When he makes a mistake," says Dana Kirk, the Tigers' coach, "all you have to say is 'Andre, if I were your point guard and I did that, what would you do to me?' " Turner is also just plain proverbial.
His utterances were in particular demand because he had put Memphis State into the regional semifinals with a late 17-foot jumper against Alabama-Birmingham, then put the Tigers into the final with an almost identical buzzer beater against Boston College. Then he shot (12 points, including his team's last four) and passed (12 assists) Memphis State past Oklahoma and into the Final Four. Turner used to be known as Andre Turnover. Not anymore.
He was most impressive against the Sooners during a 2�-minute stretch midway through the second half. The 6'10" Keith Lee and 7-foot William Bedford, who sandwiched Oklahoma star Way-man Tisdale at the back of the Tiger zone and limited him to 11 points, had each picked up a fourth foul, and the Sooners were two points behind. On four straight possessions, Turner twice threw alley-oop passes to Bedford for baskets, then twice swished jumpers in the lane after receiving feeds from Becton. For much of the rest of the game he baby-sat the ball, adding a layup and hitting both ends of a one-and-one.
The Sooners had moved into the final thanks to Tisdale. The 6'9" junior forward repeatedly cozied into his favorite spot at the left base of the lane in the overtime of the Sooners' semifinal with Louisiana Tech. First he drew a foul, which led to a couple of free throws, and then he sank two short jumpers. Still, Tech stayed even. With the score at 84-84 and eight seconds to go, Oklahoma's Tim McCalister dumped the ball into Tisdale yet again. Three Bulldogs collapsed on him as he pivoted to his left. Even so, he leaped and lofted his shot. The ball struck the heel of the rim (one bounce), hopped to the near side (two), then the far side (three), before dribbling (four and five) on the front rim and falling...in. Game, to the Sooners, 86-84. "I was yelling 'Go in!' " said Oklahoma's Darryl Kennedy—"and blowing."
Memphis State and BC didn't need an overtime in the other semi to provide similar thrills. The Eagles clawed back from a 12-point deficit in the second half to even the game at 53 with 5:50 to play, and with 57 seconds to go, it was 57-57, BC ball. But on the Eagles' inbounds play, something went askew—Vincent Askew, a Tiger guard, to be precise. He scooped up the ball after Roger McCready fumbled it, then drove to the baseline, leaped, twisted and flipped a pass out to Turner, who took a couple of dribbles to his left and threw in the game winner. "Skew just cast an eye out to me," Turner said. "Of course, I'd rather be up by 10 or 12, so my teammates and myself can be rejoicing." Turner ran straight for the locker room after his J. "I was trying not to jubilate all about the court," he explained.
Like Turner, Lee has taken his share of criticism, particularly for getting into chronic foul trouble; he had three in the first 5:14 against BC. He committed his first personal only 27 seconds into the final, and drew his fourth with 12:35 to go. But Lee adjusted his game and stuck around long enough to top all scorers with 23 points and grab 11 rebounds. "His presence creates so many problems for our foes," says Turner, who leads the full-court pressure the Tigers use when either Lee or Bedford must leave the lineup. "But when we go to the press, our transaction game gets up-tempo."
While the Memphis State press rattled Sooner point guard Anthony Bowie into committing seven turnovers, Turner dashed, through Oklahoma's pressure unscathed. He faltered only once, when with :13 to play and the Tigers clinging to a two-point lead he nearly lost his dribble in front of the OU bench and seemed to palm the ball to keep control. There was no whistle. "Everybody in the place knew it was a turnover," said Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs. "You just pray [the officials] have enough guts to call it." If the Sooners thought the refs were all wet, one certainly was after the final buzzer, because McCalister dumped a cup of ice water on him.
So did Turner think he turned it over? "I remember turning the ball over once all game," he said, "and the stat sheet says I turned it over once. So I guess it wasn't a turnover."
Whatever you say, Andre.