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December 31, 2013

Memphis Overwhelms South Florida, 88-73

The No. 17/18 Memphis Tigers came into a hostile environment where they were not welcomed with opened arms. The Tigers were looking for their first win in the American Athletic Conference. The South Florida Bulls were looking to nail an upset on their home floor.

All of the green and gold in the crowd didn't seem to intimidate the Tigers as they played with a sense of urgency before they headed back home to take on a much tougher opponent in the Cincinnati Bearcats. Memphis (10-2) had it easy in their first official game in their new conference and defeated the USF (9-5) 88-73.

In the opening minutes, both teams were sluggish on the offensive end. Victor Rudd scored the first two points for South Florida with a made jump shot. Memphis countered with a three by senior guard Joe Jackson. The teams then basically traded baskets until the 14:52 mark.

From there, Memphis went on an 11-2 run that started with a layup made by senior guard Geron Johnson. The lead was 22-12 with 9:42 left in the first and Memphis never looked back, leading by as much as 16 (30-14) with 6:30 to go in the half.

Memphis had a comfortable lead for a majority of the game, but the Bulls kept fighting. They were able to get to the line to close the gap to 33-24 with 4:08 left in the first. As a team, the Bulls shot 69.6 percent (16-of-23) from the field in the first 20 minutes, as Rudd and freshman center John Egbunu went 10-of-16 (62.5 percent) from the line combined.

The Tigers would go on another 16-9 run to end the first half with a 48-32 advantage. Just before the buzzer, Jackson went coast-to-coast for a one-handed dunk that left the crowd with something to think during the break and had the Memphis fans buzzing on Twitter.

The seniors on the Memphis squad were leading the way on offense. Jackson led the team in scoring with 14 first half points and Michael Dixon found his shooting touch, going 4-of-6 (66.7 percent) from the field while adding 10 points to the scoreboard.

Sophomore forward Shaq Goodwin and senior transfer David Pellom were hitting the boards for Memphis, combining for 11 points and 11 rebounds in the first half.

In the second half, Memphis picked up where they left off and controlled the tempo of the game. Johnson was quiet before intermission, but he started to make noise in the second half. He finished as the Tigers' leading scorer with 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting (57.1 percent) from the field.

Jackson didn't play much in the second half due to foul trouble but managed to finish the game with 18 points and six rebounds. Dixon added 18 points, six assists and two rebounds, shooting 70 percent (7-of-10) from the field.

Memphis did a much better job shooting the basketball. They went 33-of-64 (51.6 percent) from the field and 8-of-19 (42.1 percent) from the three-point line. Free throw shooting still needs improvement as the Tigers only went 14-of-22 (63.6 percent) from the line.

As for the Bulls, their big men kept them in the game. Egbunu was the game's leading scorer (20) and rebounder (14). Rudd added 17 points and eight rebounds. Junior guard Corey Allen Jr. finished with 15 points. The Bulls were without guard Anthony Collins due to a knee injury.

Memphis was dominant early in the second half, ripping out to a game-high 29-point bulge (72-43) but the Bulls closed the gap to 20 (74-54) with an 11-2 run with under seven minutes left in the game.

Memphis answered back with a short 5-0 blitz of their own before sending in wholesale substitutions. The Bulls rallied to make the score closer but the Tigers were never really threatened.

Memphis won the battle of the boards with a 42-39 advantage. Goodwin and Pellom accounted for 15 of the 42 rebounds and combined for 15 points.

Memphis will return home to take on the Cincinnati Bearcats (11-2). Tip-off for the game is at 11 a.m. CST on Saturday. The game will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPN3.

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