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December 28, 2013

Memphis Comes Out Fast, Defeats Jackson State

For the No. 17 Memphis Tigers (9-2), Christmas break is officially over. Despite an early tip-off, 15,797 came out late Saturday morning to support the Memphis basketball program and went home satisfied, as the Tigers managed to hold off Jackson State, 75-61.

For the fans expecting a blowout win, things didn't quite go as expected. Following a blistering start, Memphis seemed a bit lethargic on the court, as if they were already looking forward to conference play that kicks into high gear in January.

After threatening to blow Jackson State away early in the first half, Memphis let their foot off the gas, let JSU crawl back into the game, and rather toyed with the visitors instead of putting the game out of reach.

"We will take the W. They (Jackson State) have some good players," Memphis head coach Josh Pastner said after the game. "They are going to compete there in the SWAC no doubt so; you've got to give them full credit."

In the opening minutes, senior guard Chris Crawford came out red hot, scoring the first six points for Memphis with back-to-back shots from beyond the arc. Joe Jackson followed right behind Crawford with a shot of his own from inside the three-point line. Memphis ran out to an early 16-4 lead in the first half.

After Jackson State's Julysses Nobles knocked down two free throws to cut the Memphis advantage down to 16-6, a 9-2 Memphis run opened up a 25-8 lead for the hometown Tigers.

After opening leads as large as 19 (33-14), Memphis would hold a double-digit lead going into halftime with a 40-28 advantage. Jackson led the Tigers in scoring with nine points with Crawford and Dixon right behind Jackson with eight points apiece.

Memphis opened up their largest lead of the game, 53-32, with 12:37 left in the game. Jackson State wouldn't get any closer than 11 points when Donvateon Robinson knocked down a jump shot at the 5:05 mark and when his teammate, Marcus Love, would head to the line to make one of two free throws to cut the lead to 65-54 with 4:18 left in the game.

Memphis struggled at the free throw line (19-of-32 for the game, 59.4 percent) but shot well enough from the charity stripe to hold off JSU down the stretch.

In the second half, Memphis went 0-of-9 from deep and finished the game shooting 19 percent (4-of-21) from long range. Despite the effort, coach Pastner made it clear that he believes his team will knock down shots from the three-point line.

"We are going to make threes. I've got no issue about it," Pastner stated to the media after the game. "We are getting good looks. They are not forced. There are unselfish plays we are making, it's just we've got to put the ball in the basket."

Another key factor that kept Jackson State in the game was Memphis mistakes. Memphis coughed up 19 turnovers, with 14 committed in the first half.

Nobles led the way for Jackson State with 20 points. West added 14. Memphis managed to put four players in double figures. Dixon led Memphis with 14, forward Shaq Goodwin had 13 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and three blocks, senior forward David Pellom pitched in 12 points and went 5-of-5 from the field (all dunks) while Jackson finished with 11 points.

Pellom was perfect from the floor but he seemed more concerned with the Tigers' poor free throw shooting. He's not sure what the problem is but he believes he knows what the coaching staff is going to do to get better results at the line.

"I don't know," he said when asked why Memphis missed so many free throws. "We are going to get to practice tomorrow and I think we are going to shoot a lot of free throws."

Memphis officially begins conference play on Tuesday as they will hit the road to take on South Florida (8-4). The game will be televised on ESPN2 and tip-off begins at 6 p.m. CST.

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