"Finally," said a smiling Markel Crawford
. "We played a complete game."
A poor finish cost his team a big upset against Oklahoma. A poor start allowed UT-Arlington to escape FedExForum with a victory. But thanks in part to Crawford's aggressive play on offense and his stifling defense, Memphis dominated previously undefeated (5-0) Louisiana Tech Tuesday night, and they did so for 40 minutes. Crawford attacked the rim, converting his first four field-goal attempts and helped limit the Bulldogs' top scorer, Alex Hamilton, to a single point in the first half. With senior point guard Ricky Tarrant Jr.
on target from long range (three three-pointers in the game's first 15 minutes), the Tigers took a 33-13 lead, withstood a 12-4 run by the visitors before halftime, then pulled away steadily over the game's final 20 minutes.
"They were locked in," said Tiger coach Josh Pastner
, his team now 4-2 on the young season. "Great energy. We talked about three keys to the game. Fast-break points, second-chance points, and making sure we value the ball. We had a plus-17 advantage on the glass and 21 assists on 32 made field goals. And in the half court, we guarded them well for the most part."
For a team that entered the game shooting 23.5 percent from three-point range, any semblance of accuracy is a major step in the right direction. Tarrant finished the game four for six from beyond the arc (scoring a game-high 19 points), Avery Woodson
hit three of eight (13 points), and Trahson Burrell
two of three (10 points and 11 rebounds off the bench). Tarrant suggested after the game that it was simply a matter of time. "It wasn't any different from any other game," he said. "The coaches have stuck with me. I worked on [my shooting] all summer. I knew they'd eventually start to fall."
Memphis dominated despite a shortened rotation. K.J. Lawson continues to nurse a sore Achilles heel and brother Dedric was limited to 19 minutes by foul trouble. Senior Shaq Goodwin
earned his first double-double of the season with 18 points and 12 rebounds. But it was the sophomore Crawford (13 points and nine rebounds) who stood out among the night's difference-makers. "Every game we play, you see Markel step up," said Goodwin. "It's tough. And Coach has been asking him to hit the glass, not just guard the best offensive player. We ask a lot from him, and he's delivering."
"He has quick feet, and quick hands," added Tarrant. "He accepts the challenge." Hamilton finished with 18 points for the Bulldogs, but 17 came after the outcome had essentially been decided.
And when the ball finds Crawford on offense? "Me being in attack mode opens so much for my teammates," said Crawford himself. "Getting to the line, drawing a couple of defenders."
Goodwin emphasized that his team is happy, but not necessarily satisfied with the performance. Pastner actually suggested his team took too many shots from three-point range (14 in the first half, 23 for the game). "We need to attack more," he said. "If we're shooting 44 percent, that's fine. Otherwise, we're at our best when we're attacking the paint."
The Tigers will try and extend their first winning streak of the season to three games this Saturday when SEMO visits FedExForum for a 6 p.m. tipoff.