And sportsmanship prevails.
With five seconds left in tonight's game at FedExForum, Adonis Thomas received a pass from Chris Crawford under the Houston basket, the Cougar defense conceding the final moments of the Tigers' 17th straight victory. With 11 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists, Crawford was a Thomas layup away from the Memphis program's fourth triple-double. Alas, Thomas dribbled out the clock . . . standard protocol under coach Josh Pastner for a secured win.
"I feel bad for Chris," said Thomas after the game, but with a smile on his face. "We were joking about it in the locker room. We try to be respectful of the other team. But Chris is such a team player, gets us all involved. I apologized to him. I just tried to do the right thing."
Crawford's performance was merely one of four stand-out efforts for the U of M tonight, each of them needed as the pesky Cougars lingered until the final minute of play. Junior center Tarik Black came off the bench (like Crawford) and had his best game in two months, hitting seven of nine field-goal attempts for 15 points in 23 minutes. (Let it be said that Crawford and Black as a tandem give Memphis the best bench in Conference USA.) Thomas scored 20 points for the second straight game (22) and D.J. Stephens contributed 14 points (10 of them coming on dunks) and 10 rebounds.
The Tigers seemed to take control early with a 13-0 run that gave them a 25-15 lead just over 11 minutes into the game. But the Cougar trio of Danuel House (16 points), TaShawn Thomas (20), and Joseph Young (22) kept the visitors close enough to make things uncomfortable for Pastner and his staff. A jumper by House four minutes into the second half tied the game at 39. A Crawford trey and Black's inside presence, though, helped the Tigers extend their lead to 15 with just under eight minutes to play. A Thomas dunk closed the gap to six points (75-69) with 55 seconds left, but the Tigers made their free throws down the stretch (two from Thomas and two from Crawford) to seal the win.
Black's emergence — in a season of ups and downs for the captain — could prove integral to any postseason hopes the 21st-ranked Tigers might harbor. "When Tarik gets his game going, it opens up the perimeter and allows us to attack," said Thomas. "But when he's dominating like he was tonight, we want to feed him the ball to reward him for his hard work on defense."
Crawford knows more assists will come if Black is scoring inside. "I kept telling guys to keep going back to Tarik, consecutively," said the junior from Sheffield High School. "He's been dominant in practice lately, and that just carried over into the game. He was really aggressive, unstoppable down there."
The win improves the Tigers' record to 23-3. Memphis can clinch C-USA's regular season title with a win over Southern Miss Saturday at FedExForum and is now four games away from a spotless (16-0) farewell tour of C-USA.