The Memphis Tigers were on the road in Dallas, TX, where they had lost two (2) consecutive games to the Southern Methodist Mustangs. They were shooting blanks from the field against a sticky array of SMU zones. In fact, SMU scored more two-point baskets than Memphis (19-14).
But half (7) of the Tigers' field goals were threes, led by Geron Johnson with 5, to just a single trey by the Ponies. And the Tigers maintained edges on the boards (44-40) and at the free throw line (25-13). And make no mistake, Memphis was playing some rugged defense of their own, holding the home team to just 19-of-61 shooting (31.1 percent) overall and 1-of-12 (8.3 percent) from behind the three-point arc.
It all added up to an ugly, 60-52 victory over SMU on the road in front of a raucous crowd of 5,170. The Tigers advanced to 19-3 overall and 8-0 in Conference USA play this season. It was their 13th consecutive victory. SMU fell to 12-12 and 2-7 on a night when Southern Mississippi suffered their first league loss, 60-58, at Central Florida.
Despite the win, the night wasn't all cheery for the Tigers, and the gloom extended to many fronts. The Tigers shot poorly (29.8 percent from the floor on 14-of-47), had 15 turnovers, and barely out-rebounded a smallish SMU team. But perhaps the worst news of all was delivered with just 4:45 left to play in the game.
That's when Memphis freshman forward Shaq Goodwin was called for a Flagrant 2 Foul while trying to abort an SMU breakaway. Though Shaq clearly got ball on the attempt, the referees, who reviewed the play numerous times before making the ruling, decided that Goodwin's foul was intentional enough to warrant ejection from the game.
It doesn't affect only this game, however; the Flagrant 2 carries an automatic one-game suspension with it, making Goodwin ineligible for Saturday night's crucial road game at Hattiesburg against Southern Miss. Memphis will enter the contest with a one-game lead in Conference USA over the Golden Eagles.
Southern Methodist only led once all night, 2-0 on a layup by Jalen Jones 1:19 into the game. But Memphis could never really pull away, as the Mustangs threw junk defenses at the Tigers and drained the shot clock deeply on every possession. It was a recipe that led to an ugly first half, which saw Memphis take just a 22-17 lead into the locker room.
The Tigers came out smoking in the second half, sprinting to a 12-point lead (34-22) on the strength of a 12-5 run to begin the period. SMU countered with an 8-0 run of their own inside of an extended 12-2 blitzkrieg that shriveled the Tiger lead to a single basket, 36-34, with plenty of time (8:35) left in the game.
Memphis quickly restored order, however, and kept the lead between four and nine the rest of the way following a pair of Adonis Thomas free throws that pushed the lead back to 38-34.
The Tigers converted 12-of-15 free throws down the stretch to keep the Mustangs at bay, led by Chris Crawford with his 5-of-6 accuracy. Crawford finished with 8 points off the bench.
Johnson led the way with 19 points, and Thomas was the only other Tiger in double figures with 14. Thomas was the Tigers' leading rebounder with 9, followed by Joe Jackson and Johnson (7 apiece), D.J. Stephens (6) and Goodwin (5). SMU placed three (3) in double-figures: Nick Russell (17), Jalen Jones (13 points and a game-high 15 rebounds), and Ryan Manuel (10).
As the Tigers travel to Hattiesburg in an effort to maintain sole possession of first place, the Mustangs travel to Rice to battle the Owls. Memphis tips off at 3:00 Central time.