With March less than three weeks away, the Tigers took the floor today in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, like they had something to play for. Taking the floor against a Southern Miss team that had won 23 straight on its home court, Memphis hit 15 of its first 20 shots, starting with an alley-oop dunk by D.J. Stephens (from Geron Johnson) not ten seconds after the opening tip. With star turns from Chris Crawford, Johnson, and even Adonis Thomas, the Tigers took the lead for good midway through the first half and never allowed the Golden Eagles to get closer than three points after halftime.
Over the game's first 20 minutes, Memphis shot 65 percent, with Crawford draining four three-pointers and Johnson setting an offensive pace unlike any Tiger fans have seen this season. (Consider Memphis made more field goals in the first 15 minutes of today's game than they did in all 40 minutes last Wednesday night at SMU.) Thomas hit a short jumper at the buzzer (after a missed free throw by Southern Miss) to give the Tigers a 47-39 lead at the break.
Led primarily by sophomore guard Dwayne Davis (25 points for the game), the Golden Eagles pulled within three (54-51) early in the second half. But a three-point play by Thomas extended the Memphis lead to eight with 10:40 to play and Johnson delivered a dagger at the 8:45 mark, draining a trey to give the Tigers a 68-61 lead.
Johnson established a new season/career high with 25 points, hitting eight of 11 shots from the field (including four treys). The junior added eight rebounds, seven assists, and four steals in 39 minutes, topping the 21-point outburst he had against Ohio in December. Juniors Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford essentially ceded point-guard duties to Johnson and it showed with a furious pace needed to offset the hostile crowd eager for a second-straight win over the Tigers at Reed Green Coliseum. (Southern Miss is among the Conference USA programs that will not follow Memphis to the Big East next season.)
Supporting Johnson's afternoon was Crawford with 16 points and Thomas and Stephens with 11 each. The Tigers shot 56-percent from the field to earn their 14th straight win and give the program its 13th straight season with 20 victories. Now 20-3, Memphis should emerge with Top 25 consideration when the polls are released on Monday.
The Tigers return to FedExForum for their next game, Wednesday night against UCF.