Among college basketball teams on nine-game losing streaks, the UCF Knights have to be the best in the country. For the second time in two weeks, Isaiah Sykes and friends battled the nationally ranked Memphis Tigers well into the second half before succumbing. The visitors outrebounded the Tigers (39-27) and outscored Memphis 48-44 in the paint, just enough to test the nerves of 15,021 fans at FedExForum.
With the score tied at 48 and 9:05 to play in the game, senior guard Chris Crawford received a pass in the left corner and did what such moments require: He buried a three-pointer to finally lift that crowd from their 15,021 seats. Fellow senior Joe Jackson snagged an offensive rebound and rose to convert a bank shot, then Michael Dixon — one more senior guard — connected to extend the Memphis lead to seven (59-52) with 4:40 to play. By the time reserve center David Pellom delivered a breakaway dunk with 3:29 left, the Tigers had enjoyed an 18-8 run over an eight-minute stretch to clinch their 19th win of the season.
"My teammates just found me," said Crawford after the game. "That was a big three; we needed it. But it all starts on the defensive end. We got some stops there, got out in transition for some easy buckets. Our defense carried over to our offense. They're better than their record, but as a group, I didn't feel like we had as much energy out there tonight as we could have. We've got a couple of days to get ready, and we'll be ready to play Saturday."
Thanks largely to Sykes (14 points) and Tristan Spurlock (18 points and 10 rebounds), the Knights fought back from a 13-point first-half deficit to take the lead (39-38) five minutes into the second half. But UCF misfired from three-point range (4 for 17) and committed 15 turnovers (seven of them by Sykes), leaving enough opening for the 20th-ranked Tigers to prevail for the 16th time in 17 meetings between the two former C-USA programs.
Senior guard Joe Jackson led Memphis with 18 points and moved past Chris Douglas-Roberts into ninth place on the U of M career scoring chart. (With 1,559 points, Jackson trails Bill Cook by 70.) Shaq Goodwin contributed 14 points, six rebounds, four assists, and a pair of blocks, and Crawford and Dixon each scored 10 points.
"I'm thankful for the win," said Goodwin. "Basketball's a game of runs. They went on a run, then we went on a run. They got a lot of offensive rebounds . [Coach Josh Pastner] wasn't happy at all with that, but he's happy with the win."
The Tigers improved to 8-3 in American Athletic Conference play, still two games in the loss column behind Cincinnati with seven regular-season games to play. They'll travel to UConn Saturday for a chance to avenge the 10-point loss to the Huskies at FedExForum on January 16th.