Consider the course corrected.
Twelve days after getting undressed by All-America guard Marcus Smart and the Oklahoma State Cowboys, the Tigers erased a 10-point halftime deficit and earned Josh Pastner his first win over a top-20 team as coach at Memphis. The victory is the program's first over a top-10 team since a win over UCLA at the 2008 Final Four.
After scoring a career-high 39 points in the teams' first meeting, Smart was held to 12 (on 4-of-13 shooting) tonight. With the U of M up 71-68 and less than 20 seconds to play, Tiger guard Geron Johnson forced a Smart turnover. Joe Jackson was intentionally fouled and made both free throws with 11.9 seconds left to clinch the win. Jackson didn't score in the first half and was limited to 3-of-10 shooting from the field, but the senior from White Station High School hit five of six free throws and tied Shaq Goodwin for the team lead with eight rebounds.
Memphis trailed 47-39 not quite three minutes into the second half, then surged on an 11-1 run keyed by driving layups from Chris Crawford, birthday-boy Michael Dixon (on a goal-tending call), and Goodwin. After being limited to 21 combined points in the November 19th loss against OSU, the Tigers' quartet of senior guards combined for 45 to help earn Memphis the Old Spice Classic championship. Goodwin led the Tigers with 17 points, with Crawford adding 16, Dixon 12, and Jackson 11.
The win improves the Tigers' record to 5-1 and ensures their ranking will improve from 21, while the Cowboys suffered their first loss in eight games this season.
The Tigers seemed to play with a collective will from the outset, taking a 5-0 lead to start the game, and holding the advantage over the game's first 11 minutes. (Twelve minutes into their earlier matchup with the Cowboys, Memphis trailed 31-20.) Oklahoma State went on a 9-0 run to grab the lead before halftime, only to see the Tigers score the first seven points of the second half to stay in the contest.
Some losses (like the one to Oklahoma State on November 19th) linger. And some wins (like the one today over Oklahoma State) establish a new track for a long season. Ask Josh Pastner and he'd call it a course correction. At least until the next game.
The Tigers return to FedExForum to host Northwestern State on December 7th.