KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The greatest game any Memphis player ever had in the NCAA tournament finally presented an obstacle the plucky Matadors of Cal State-Northridge could not overcome.
They battled heartbreak. They overcame tragedy. They lost their two best players during the season but still reached the tournament for the second time in school history.
Then they ran into an unlikely scoring machine named Roburt Sallie.
Averaging just 4.5 points all year, Sallie hit 10 3-pointers and scored 35 as the second-seeded Tigers came from behind to beat the Matadors 81-70 on Thursday and dodge what would have been one of the biggest upsets in tournament history.
"Coach said keep shooting," said Sallie, whose previous career high was 13. "None of my teammates would ever expect me to score 35 points. I never made 10 3-pointers before."
Neither did anyone else in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Sallie's long-range onslaught erased the first-round record and enabled Memphis (32-3) to avoid the stigma of being just the fifth No. 2 seed to lose in the opening round since the tournament went to a 64-team format in 1985.
The Matadors, quite logically, had trained their defense on Antonio Anderson, Robert Dozier and all the other accomplished shooters who carried the Tigers into the tournament on a nation-leading 25-game winning streak.
But then Sallie jumped off the bench and buried them.
"They kept leaving me open. I got a lot of open looks today and I just hit the shots," he said.
He hit them like no other Memphis player ever did in the NCAA tournament. His 35 points broke the school record for tournament scoring and was the most by any Tigers player this year.
How unlikely was this shooting hero?
There were nine games this year when he didn't score at all. While he was 10-for-15 from 3-point range, his more famous teammates combined for 1-for-13.
"I knew Rob had it in him all along," said Anderson, who got off to such a slow start he had one point and three fouls at one stage of the second half. "All during the year, I tell him to shoot the ball, shoot the ball. He's a little hesitant."
The Matadors (17-14) seized a six-point lead with a little more than 10 minutes to play, bringing a roar from a capacity crowd that quickly became enchanted with the 19-point underdogs.
"Obviously, we didn't anticipate what Sallie was going to do today," said Northridge coach Bobby Braswell.
Sallie kept Cal State-Northridge at bay during a lackluster first half that earned last year's national runners-up a halftime tongue-lashing.
"I called it arrogance at halftime," Memphis coach John Calipari said. "My job is to keep their swagger, but it moved into arrogance."
The Matadors, who lost one of their top players in a traffic accident during the season and another to a burglary charge, never seemed intimidated and led most of the second half.
The crowd went crazy when Vincent Cordell's bucket gave the Matadors a 62-56 lead.
"We were never scared," Anderson said. "Scared is never in our minds. That's never a problem for us. They came out and made some shots and that's what they had to do."
After Cordell's bucket, Sallie hit another 3-pointer and Anderson, hardly a factor most of the game, launched a decisive 9-0 run.
Sallie's 10 3-pointers surpassed 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 for the Tigers.
"My hat is off to Northridge," Calipari said. "They did not back down."
The Tigers were trailing 64-61 when Anderson 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 six-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.
"Tyreke Evans and Robert Dozier weren't as good as they usually are. But at this point, we're just trying to march on," Calipari said.
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.
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.
"Our point was to pressure Dozier inside and force other guys to hit shots," Braswell said. "I believe most of [Sallie's] shots were contested. He stepped up and made big plays. I ran into Calipari and he said that was his best game he's ever played. He made some big shots and you have to give them credit for that."