Culture / Sporting Life

Quentin Grimes Goes Clutch Nuclear, Leaving No Doubt Houston Can Win the NCAA Tournament Superstar Game

Grimes Captures an Epic Duel With Memphis' Boogie Ellis, Gives Kelvin Sampson the Chance to Have the Best Player on the Floor in Any Major March Moment

BY // 03.14.21

FORT WORTH — Quentin Grimes just keeps hunting the moment, putting all the pressure that comes with it on himself. Grimes will not let his University of Houston team buckle. He’ll find a way, big shot by big shot by big shot. Memphis is certain it has this game. Penny Hardaway’s team is convinced they’ve already taken big, bad Houston’s best shot, having survived getting their hearts ripped out at the end of the first half.

The Tigers are chirping, certain they’re about to win the game that will get them into the NCAA Tournament. Grimes does not care. There are Komodo dragons and credit card debt collectors who are less cold blooded. Quentin Grimes has his own March agenda. And these beyond desperate Tigers are just another obstacle in his way.

Just try and stop him. If you. . . newsflash, you can’t.

When Grimes is done, Boogie Ellis, the ultra talented Memphis guard who duels Grimes shot for shot at times, is in tears. Heck, Boogie looks like he’s almost in shock in a postgame Zoom interview. Ellis largely played great himself. He just could not grab the moment quite like Quentin Grimes.

If NCAA Tournament games are often decided by the best player on the floor, UH should be in great shape for a long run. For any last little remaining doubts about whether this all together, unselfish Houston team has the type of brilliant individual star that can take over a close, high-pressure game when needed are obliterated by Grimes in this Saturday night in Fort Worth.

Because Grimes refuses to let the Cougars lose, they are Marching on to American Athletic Conference championship game, setting themselves up for one unforgettable Selection Sunday. It ends Houston 76, Memphis 74. It ends with Grimes leaving little doubt that he’s the best player in the conference — and one of the best players in America period.

“The guy that just was an absolute stud tonight — that just owned the moment — was Quentin,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson says afterwards when I ask about having fearless shot makers. “I just thought he owned that moment.

“He loved it. He wanted it. He sought it. He craved it.”

Just a cold-blooded closer. Doing his thing.

After they play a Cincinnati team that’s just as desperate as Memphis for the conference title, the Cougars will gather as a team in this sparkling arena and watch to see if the NCAA Tournament selection committee does the right thing and awards them a No. 2 seed. Then again, the seeding might not even matter. Not with the way this now 23-3 UH team is playing.

Justin Gorham Grabs March — and Refuses to Let Go

Sampson’s squad has now won seven straight games overall heading into the NCAA Tournament, a streak extended with a demolition of Cincinnati in the AAC title game. Grimes puts up another 21 points in 22 minutes. There’s peaking for March — and then, there’s hitting absolute overdrive. There are new age GameStop millionaires who don’t grab a moment quite like Grimes and friends.

And Grimes will be the first one to tell you — it’s definitely and friends. As good as Grimes is down the stretch of this telling Memphis game, Houston does not win without Justin Gorham grabbing two of the biggest rebounds you’ll ever see. The first is a how-did-he-come-up-with-that grab of a Grimes 3-point miss. The 6-foot-7 Gorham plucks the offensive rebound away amid the traffic of taller, beyond desperate Memphis players.

Then, he’s fouled and hits both free throws to push Houston’s lead to three. Memphis’ last real shot to force overtime is a Boogie Ellis triple and Gorham yanks that miss away in another scrum, too. Rarely will a player ever have one rebound as memorable as that in a single game — let alone two in back-to-back sequences with the entire outcome in the balance.

If the Tigers could have just boxed Justin Gorham out, they very well may have been dancing. But they just can’t do it. Gorham just will not let them.

“It’s just what he does,” Grimes says of Gorham, with the smile across his face spreading wider with each word. “He’s a magnet to the ball. Wherever the ball is, it seems like he’s right there. I can’t even begin. . . His hands are just like a magnet to the ball. He just knows where to get it. He knows where to find it. We have a bubble (rebounding) drill (in practice) and he wins almost every bubble drill he’s in.

“He’s The Magnet. Just a magnet for the ball.”

Besides his rebounds, many coming when he’s the only even semi big player UH has on the floor in a four-guard lineup, Gorham goes 9 for 9 from the free-throw line. On a night when Memphis clangs 12 free throws, bringing back visions of a national championship game that a John Calipari-coached Memphis team blew to Kansas, Sampson’s team is near perfect from the charity stripe.

Nineteen for 22. Led by their “Big Guy.” If Quentin Grimes won this game, Justin Gorham refused to let it go.

“I don’t know where we’d be without Justin,” Grimes says.

It ends with Grimes leaving little doubt that he’s the best player in the conference — and one of the best players in America period.

Memphis (16-8) does everything it can to win this game. It terrorizes Houston’s experienced team with its full-court pressure in the first 10 minutes of the second half, completely flipping the game around. It gets a career-high 27 points from Boogie Ellis. But the Tigers can never quite finish the Cougars off. No matter what they do.

DeJon Jarreau UH
DeJon Jarreau celebrates another March win for the University of Houston. (@UHCougarMBK)

“I knew that they weren’t going to go away — that we were going to have to knock them out,” Hardaway says in a postgame Zoom full of laments. “. . . They’re used to winning. We’re not used to winning on that level. It just came down to the toughest team. The smartest team. The team that’s won and established a culture.”

It also comes down to the team that has Quentin Grimes.

Boogie vs. Quentin, the Duel

Boogie Ellis is certain he’s hitting daggers that will stagger Houston silly like a vintage Mike Tyson uppercut. And by all rights, he is. Only, Quentin Grimes keeps hitting them back. Ellis triples to put Memphis up 51-50 and Grimes follows with his own three on the very next trip up court to grab the lead right back. Ellis hits another three to tie things at 55 and Grimes responds to that by rising up two feet outside the top of the key. . .

Bang! Right back at you. It’s about as close as you can get in college basketball to that instant classic duel between Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell in the NBA bubble. And Quentin Grimes is absolutely loving every freaking minute of it.

“Yeah, those are the games you live for,” Grimes says when I ask if he can appreciate the fun of such a duel in the moment. “Just trading buckets. Trying to get a stop. Every team is playing super hard. Everybody just making contested buckets. Trading buckets. Kind of just like playing at the rec.

“You’re just going out there, trading buckets, trying to stop each other. It’s super fun out there.”

Quentin Grimes UH
Quentin Grimes gives UH the chance to have the best player on the floor in March. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Grimes’ fun is one of the most intense non-NCAA Tournament college basketball games you’ll ever see. There are hard fouls and harder fouls, contested calls, irate near apoplectic coaches and countless stoppages in play. The drama keeps building. And building. And building.

If the Tigers could have just boxed Justin Gorham out, they very well may have been dancing. But they just can’t do it. Gorham just will not let them.

When it’s over, Hardaway, Ellis and the rest of the Tigers refuse to leave the floor for more than five minutes. They can’t quite believe everything is done, convinced that there should still be 0.2 seconds on the clock. Some games seem like they’ll never end in the best way possible.

One team is playing for the chance to get into the NCAA Tournament, playing for the most important thing to any college basketball player always. The other is just playing for another chance to win together, another chance to get the trophy celebration at Dickies Arena that COVID robbed them of probably having last year.

Of course, that team has Quentin Grimes. Oh, UH guard Marcus Sasser (14 points) hits some big drives too, getting into the paint when Houston is settling for jump shots. But this is ultimately the Quentin Quandary for Memphis. The 21 points Grimes finishes with barely begin to hint at the extent to which he owns this game. When Boogie stops hitting threes, Houston’s No. 24 just keeps going. Grimes hits a triple to make it 67-66 Houston and another to make it 70-69 Houston with 1:57 left.

Each time, Grimes yanks the lead away from the pleading, dreaming Tigers. Each time, he rips out another little piece of their basketball hearts. The winds are whipping outside in a blustery, but still warm North Texas night. But Grimes does not feel a thing but the moment.

Just a cold-blooded closer. Doing his thing.

Yes, thank you very much, Houston is ready for March and all the dancing to come. Quentin Grimes has been getting ready for this moment ever since he started dribbling.

“If Quentin Grimes keeps playing at that level, along with Marcus Sasser and (UH point guard) DeJon Jarreau,” Hardaway muses. “That’s a three-headed monster.”

Quentin Grimes leaves his monster night, smiling his way off a Zoom call with reporters who are a few levels above him in the same building.

Just a cold-blooded closer. Having the time of his life.

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