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December 1, 2013

Memphis Gets Payback Against OSU with 73-68 Win


The No. 19/21 ranked Memphis Tigers (5-1) came into Sunday's Old Spice Classic championship game with a chip on their shoulders. The HP Fieldhouse at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, FL was filled with Tiger Nation fanatics. The fifth-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-1) were waiting on the Tigers to step onto the court for an eagerly awaited rematch that has been hyped up in the national media since the beginning of the tournament.

Senior guard Joe Jackson promised that his team would compete this time around and he kept his promise. Jackson didn't have a spectacular game, but he was part of a thriller with the Tigers defeating the Cowboys, 73-68.

The game started with the Memphis big men being ultra-aggressive on the offensive end. Sophomore forward Shaq Goodwin went into halftime as the Tigers' leading scorer with 11 points, five rebounds and three assists. His partner in crime on the Tiger front line, freshman forward Austin Nichols scored six points before halftime while grabbing three rebounds.

Memphis also played tight defense on Cowboy standout Marcus Smart and held him scoreless until late in the first half. Smart shot 33.3 percent (2-of-6) from the field in the first half, finishing with five points, four rebounds and three assists in the first 20 minutes.

With all of the attention paid to Smart, six of his teammates were able to score points, led by Smart's former high school teammate, Phil Forte with nine points. Memphis, meanwhile, seemed to get away from the high-low interchange between Goodwin and Nichols, and the guards fell back into the habit of jacking up poor shots.

Memphis went from leading for a good portion of the early going to trailing by 10 at the half, 42-32, with Chris Crawford missing a pair of free throws that could have cut the deficit to eight.

The Tigers came into the game knocking how important it could be to knock down free throws but promptly laid an egg with their first half foul line shooting. They converted an abysmal 30 percent (3-of-10) from the line.

Coming out of the half, Goodwin picked up where he left off in the first half. Goodwin was closing in on double-double performance but fell just short, finishing the game with 17 points, eight rebounds and three assists on his way to tournament MVP status.

Memphis quickly clawed their way back into the game, running off the first seven points of the second half to trim their deficit to just three (42-39). Oklahoma State tried to run back off, countering with a 5-0 burst of their own, but the determined Tigers pulled into their third tie of the game, and first since 7:19 was left in the first half, when a Michael Dixon layup knotted the contest at 48 with 11:49 remaining.

Dixon, who was celebrating his birthday today, put the Tigers in the lead for good, 54-52, on a three-pointer with 9:15 left in the game. The Cowboys never surrendered but couldn't tie the game or take the lead again on the night.

Four made free throws by Jackson in the final 11 seconds ensured that the Tiger fans who made the trip to Orlando would go back home happy.

The Memphis defense made Smart's night difficult. The Tigers didn't allow him to breathe on the offensive end. Despite his struggles, Smart finished the game with 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Knco down shooter Phil Forte notched a game-high 19 points while Markel Brown added 10 points, seven rebounds and one assist.

As a team, the Cowboys shot 48.1 percent (25-of-52) from the field and 23.1 percent (3-of-13) from long range. The Cowboys had the advantage at the free throw line. OSU shot 68.2 percent (15-of-22) from the line while Memphis recovered from that 3-of-10 first half to finish the night at 50 percent (12-of-24).

The four senior guards (Jackson, Crawford, Johnson, and Dixon) set the tone for Memphis in the second half. In the first game, they combined for 21 points on 8-of-34 shooting (23.5 percent) from the field. This time around was a different story.

Chris Crawford led the way for the seniors with 16 points on 6-of-14 shooting (42.8 percent) from the field. Michael Dixon, the birthday boy, scored nine huge second half points on his way to 11 points while shooting 62.5 percent (5-of-8) from the field. Jackson pitched in 11 points and though Geron Johnson was the least effective on the scoring end with six points, his defense on Smart was pivotal to the victory.

In fact, perhaps the single biggest play of the night came with Memphis clinging to a 69-68 lead with 12 seconds left in the game. With the Cowboys trying to hold for the last shot, Smart had the ball in his hand.

When Smart tried to split a double team, Johnson poked the ball away and Jackson was able to corral the steal for Memphis. Jackson would go to the line and knock down two key free throws that would put Memphis up by three.

OSU had one more shot at tying the game but was unable to get a shot off, as Smart was harassed into yet another turnover, his fourth of the half and fifth overall of 12 by his team.

With this win out of the way, Memphis now comes back home to play Northwestern State at the FedEx Forum on Saturday, December 7 at 12 p.m.


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