GAME NOTES: The Memphis Tigers look to end their stay in the Conference USA with another dominant performance as they take on the second-seeded Southern Miss Golden Eagles in the tournament championship game at the BOK Center.
Chris Crawford showed he can be a difference-maker for the Tigers on Friday as he poured in a career-high 30 points to lift Memphis to an 85-74 win over Tulsa in the semifinals. Crawford drilled eight 3-pointers to help the Tigers advance to their third straight Conference USA Championship game. Geron Johnson followed with 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists, while Shaq Goodwin netted 12 points for Memphis, which has won five straight.
Memphis, which is ranked 20th in the polls, has only lost one game since Dec. 15, and that setback came at the Cintas Center to a tough Xavier Musketeers unit. Joe Jackson (13.8 ppg, 4.9 apg) is clearly the leader of the Tigers this season despite having an off-game with zero points on Friday, but Memphis has plenty of scoring options down the line. Adonis Thomas (11.7 ppg) was once projected to be an NBA lottery pick. Although his numbers aren't overwhelming, he is definitely returning to favor with scouts due to his athleticism and scoring ability. Thomas is not the only capable forward for the Tigers, as Tarik Black, Goodwin and D.J. Stephens are all solid role players. Memphis is the league's third-best team in forcing opponents' miscues. The Tigers are forcing their foes to turn the ball over 15.6 times per contest. Memphis has not lost a C-USA Tournament game since 2010 and its most recent loss before that came in 2005.
This will be the third meeting of the season between these schools. The Tigers swept the Golden Eagles with a 13-point win in Hattiesburg followed by a 16- point decision in Memphis on Feb. 23.
The Golden Eagles took down UAB, 81-66, in the quarterfinals on Thursday to tip-off their postseason slate. Neil Watson paced the team with 23 points and Dwayne Davis added 20 in the victory, which was the second-straight. Southern Miss shot 53 percent, led 40-26 at halftime and never saw its second-half lead dip below seven points. Donnie Tyndale's squad played very well during his first season with the program as it defeated the likes of Western Kentucky, Georgia and Denver along with all of its league rivals other than Memphis.
USM defeated UTEP, 85-67, on Friday in the semifinals to earn a third date with the Tigers. Dwayne Davis scored a game-high 27 points, while Jerrold Brooks and Jonathan Mills followed with 13 points apiece, with Mills adding 10 rebounds for the Golden Eagles, who have won three straight to bolster their resume for the NCAA Tournament.
Tyndale's Golden Eagles are still a long shot to earn an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament due to the weak RPI of the Conference USA this season. Still, the Golden Eagles have a balanced attack led by Davis' 16.1 ppg. Mills is one of the conference's top rebounders with 7.4 boards per tilt and Neil Watson delivers 4.9 assists and 1.8 steals per contest from the point guard slot.
USM was no match for Memphis during the regular season but it has played some of its best basketball in the C-USA Tournament so far. The Tigers will be heading to the Big East next season, which makes this their final appearance in the league. The Golden Eagles will try to send them off with an unfavorable result, although that feat will be very difficult to accomplish as a different Memphis players seems to be stepping into a starring role each game.