What a difference a Markel Crawford
makes. Three days after going scoreless in the Tigers' 15-point loss at UCF, the junior guard ended a three-game slump with 19 points (on 8 of 13 shooting) to help Memphis avenge a 10-point loss at Tulsa less than a month ago. Having scored 81 points in that win, the Golden Hurricane had its total virtually cut in half and fell to 12-11 for the season (6-5 in the American Athletic Conference). Memphis improves to 18-7 and 8-4 in the AAC.
"I've just got to be a more consistent player," said Crawford after the game. "It hurts the team when I don't produce, makes it hard on them. I've got to come out with an aggressive mindset, no matter where we are, and stay focused. Once I see that first shot go in, my mindset is that everything will go in."
After falling behind UCF 14-0 last Saturday, the Tigers found themselves down 12-2 less than six minutes into Tuesday night's game. Crawford acknowledged the slow starts have to end. "They put us in a hole," said Crawford, "and it takes more energy just to get back in the game."
That energy was found off the bench, of all places, with Christian Kessee
and Keon Clergeot
draining three-pointers on consecutive possessions midway through the first half. When K.J. Lawson added a long-distance shot himself, the Tigers had closed from a seven-point deficit (15-8) to a single point down (18-17). A Kessee jump shot (for two) gave the Tigers their first lead (19-18) with 8:32 left in the first half. A 13-2 run to end the half gave the U of M a 32-27 lead at the break.
"Christian, Keon, and Craig [Randall]
have been shooting well in practice," said Smith, "so I thought it was a good time, down eight or nine. The energy level just wasn't there. It paid dividends in the second half. We were consistently good defensively tonight. That's why we won the game."
Tulsa made only four of 22 shots from three-point range and shot 32 percent overall. Junior Etou led the Golden Hurricane with merely nine points.
Sophomore forward Dedric Lawson
scored 14 points and pulled down 11 rebounds for the 33rd double-double of his career, a figure that ties him with James Bradley for sixth in Tiger history. He also became the 51st Memphis player to score 1,000 points in his career (and just the 10th to do so in his first two seasons). His older brother, K.J. Lawson
, added 12 points.
Smith admitted to some "fiery" practices since the UCF loss. "Most people are not self-motivators," he said. "They need some pushing and pulling. You can get in a rut. We were so concerned about energy levels, minutes. I'm not going to worry about it in practice any more. You gotta practice the way you play. That's my fault. Our starters don't get much of a break in practice. It's not like they weren't working hard. It's just the intensity level. More importantly, we're back to some fundamentals in our defensive principles."
The Tigers will have a chance to avenge another loss come Sunday when Temple visits FedExForum. The Owls handled Memphis in Philadelphia on January 25th, winning 77-66. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m.