They say basketball is a game of runs. That fact couldn't have been more apparent than in today's game when the University of Memphis Tigers (14-3, 3-0 in Conference USA) saw plenty of runs from their opponent, the visiting Harvard Crimson. The Tigers saw a once 20-point lead completely disappear before they prevailed, 60-50, in front of an announced crowd of 16,204.
"That was a very good win, that's a very good Harvard team," said Josh Pastner, head coach of the Tigers. "We won that game through defense. We had a big-time skid offensively where we were not in a rhythm, but held the third-best three-point shooting team in the country to just 25.0 percent (from three-point range) and 37.5 percent from the field."
Memphis started the game on a run, streaking to a 9-2 lead on the shoulders of junior guard Geron Johnson and freshman forward Shaq Goodwin. They would eventually take a 16-point lead into halftime, 32-16, but those pesky Ivy-leaguers would have an answer.
Harvard took advantage of poor decision-making and cold shooting by Memphis to close the gap to just seven points, 40-33. And just when the Tigers built another double-digit lead (44-33), the Crimson went on a 13-0 run to take a short-lived lead of their own, 48-46, over Memphis.
"We knew they (were) going to make runs," said sophomore Adonis Thomas, who contributed with seven points and a team-high eight rebounds. "We broke down defensively, (weren't) getting back in transition, gave them easy layups. But coach stayed calm and went with a smaller lineup to protect the perimeter. It was all on us to do better."
The Tigers responded out of a timeout with a mini 4-0 run that energized the crowd and also a slumping junior guard Chris Crawford. He made defensive stops down the stretch, and scored six of the Tigers' last eight points to close out the game and seal the win for Memphis.
"It feels good to somewhat break out of the slump," Crawford said. "I got a great rhythm in practice, but I gotta find it in the games. Tonight it helped me, but I will continue to keep doing what I'm doing, working hard, and hopefully I will get better."
Four Tigers finished in double figures. Not only did Crawford make it into double digits with 13 points to lead Memphis, but Goodwin (11), Joe Jackson and crowd favorite D.J. Stephens (10 apiece) all chipped in to help the Tigers earn another out of conference victory. Three Tigers (Goodwin, Stephens and Thomas) led the team to a +16 rebounding margin with 8 boards apiece.
Speaking of eight, this was the Tigers' eighth straight win - the longest such streak in Pastner's tenure.
Much of it can be attributed to Stephens' play on both ends of the floor.
"Man, he's the MVP, he does everything right every time he touches the floor," Goodwin said.
"To me, he's one of the five best Tigers in the history of this program - and I'm not talking talent wise either," Pastner said. "You have Penny Hardaway, Keith Lee, D.J. and the other two, I'll leave that up for debate."