The Tigers discovered one surefire way to stop their recent trend of allowing big leads to slip away: Let the opponent take the big lead.
Having lost 20 game in a row in its series with Memphis, Tulane took the floor tonight at FedExForum with a noticeable energy charge. Led by sharp-shooting guard Ricky Tarrant, the Green Wave hit five of its first eight shots to take a 13-5 lead, then stretched the margin to 15 (32-17) with just over seven minutes to play until halftime. Only shut-down defense in the second half and a return, with impact, from one of their veteran leaders allowed the Tigers to pull away late for their ninth straight win, and their 90th in four years under coach Josh Pastner.
"Our crowd [15,466] was terrific," said Pastner after the game. "They gave us a great lift; they led the way. We got stops when we needed to. Held them to under 30 percent [shooting] in the second half. And we had 20 assists on 26 made field goals. Nice to get away with a victory."
Junior center Tarik Black did not play in the first half, a penalty for, as Pastner described it, his "negative attitude" during Saturday's win over Harvard. He entered the game with just over three minutes played in the second half and the Tigers down six points (41-35). They outscored Tulane by 17 the rest of the way, with Black scoring 10 (and picking up four fouls) in 16 minutes on the floor.
"Tarik's got a great spirit," said Pastner. "Everyone who knows him knows what a good young man he is. These are college guys, and mistakes are going to be made. We're in a public situation, where everyone knows what you did. Let's not blow it out of proportion. No one broke any law. It's very, very minor. Just one of those consequences. In the second half he did his job and helped us get a W."
Junior guard Geron Johnson led Memphis with 18 points (his second-highest total of the season), with four coming on a pair of alley-oop dunks from Joe Jackson. He added five assists and four steals, but could not explain the up-and-down nature of his team's play of late.
"I'm not a guy with excuses," Johnson said, "so maybe we're just a one-half team right now. But that's what we're working on in practice. I know we won't quit [when behind], but I wasn't worried about that, I'll be honest with you."
Joe Jackson scored 16 points for the Tigers (his 14th straight game with at least 10) and Chris Crawford was productive for a second straight game with 14 points (three treys) and six assists, one of them a beautiful feed late in the game that led to a D.J. Stephens slam dunk.
Pastner gave credit to Tulane coach Ed Conroy and his team for earning that early lead. "We allowed them to play catch," said Pastner. "They dictated tempo and punched us in the mouth. It wasn't until we turned up our intensity that we made our run." Josh Davis scored 13 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in 39 minutes for the Green Wave. Tulane managed to out-rebound the Tigers, 33-29, but Memphis had a distinct advantage in scoring off the bench (26-8), thanks to Crawford and Black.
The Tigers (15-3) finish their current three-game homestand Saturday with a 1 p.m. tip-off against Marshall, the team Memphis beat in last year's C-USA tournament championship game.