Dallas, TX-Despite their worst offensive output of the season, the University of Memphis men’s basketball team (19-3, 8-0 C-USA) used clutch free throw shooting and a strong defensive presence to propel them to a 60-52 win over SMU (12-12, 2-7 C-USA) on Wednesday night.
Memphis got out to a 9-2 lead early with Adonis Thomas and Geron Johnson knocking down triples in the first five minutes. The Tigers’ hot shooting quickly cooled as Memphis went nearly six minutes without a field goal to allow SMU to bring their deficit to 9-7.
Chris Crawford ended Memphis’ drought with the team’s third trey of the night to make it 12-7 midway through the first half. After an SMU bucket, Johnson connected on his second three of the night to increase the Tigers’ lead to 15-9 with 7:36 left in the half.
With Memphis holding a 19-12 lead, the Mustangs pulled to within two at the 1:55 mark after back-to-back misses by the Tigers. Damien Wilson answered for Memphis with a drive to the basket for an and-one opportunity that put the Tigers up 22-17 going into the half. Johnson led Memphis at the break with seven points. At the end of the first period, Memphis shot just 29 percent while the Mustangs were a dismal 23 percent from the field.
In the second half, the Tigers used a 6-0 run in the first two minutes of the half to stretch their lead to 28-19, forcing an SMU timeout. The Mustangs responded with a fastbreak layup by Ryan Manuel before another three from Johnson gave Memphis its first double digit lead of the game at 31-21 with 16:15 to go.
The Tigers opened up a 34-22 lead until SMU answered with an 8-0 run over the next two minutes to make it 34-30 with 13 minutes to play. The Tigers ended the Mustangs’ run with a jumper in the paint from Thomas to bring it to 36-30. SMU came back to within a bucket as Memphis went scoreless over the next four minutes to make it 36-34 midway through the half. The Tigers increased their lead to six with four straight points from the charity stripe by Thomas and Antonio Barton.
A three from Johnson gave the Tigers some comfort as they built a nine-point lead with less than seven minutes to go. The Mustangs pulled back within five with four points from the line, but Johnson answered once again with his fifth triple of the night to give the Tigers a 48-40 advantage at the last media timeout.
The Mustangs were only able to get within six the rest of the way as Memphis hit 12-of-16 from the stripe in the final 1:38 to clinch a 60-52 win.
Johnson led the Tigers with 19 points, setting a career-high in three-point field goals made with five. Thomas also reached double figures for Memphis with 14 points, going 7-of-8 from the free throw line. The Tigers were held to just 30 percent from the floor while SMU was not much better at 31 percent. The Mustangs had 26 points in the paint compared to Memphis’ 12 while also holding an advantage in second chance points (15-6).
Memphis will close out its two-game road trip with a Saturday contest against Southern Miss, but the Tigers may not have freshman forward Shaq Goodwin. Goodwin was ejected for a flagrant foul in the second half of Wednesday’s game and faces a one-game suspension by the Conference USA office.