As the year ends, a new era begins for the University of Memphis basketball program. The 18th-ranked Tigers traveled to Tampa and beat the South Florida Bulls in the U of M's first American Athletic Conference game. (Memphis and USF spent ten years together in Conference USA before the Bulls left for the Big East in 2005.) The game was the centerpiece of a nationally televised triple-header featuring members of the American, including recent national champions Connecticut (2011) and Louisville (2013).
The Tigers and Bulls exchanged the lead seven times over the game's first seven minutes before Memphis pulled away. Michael Dixon came off the bench and hit consecutive three-pointers to give the Tigers a 28-14 lead with 7:25 to play before halftime. The Tigers were still leading by 14 when senior guard Joe Jackson flew through the lane for a breathtaking dunk just before the halftime buzzer. Jackson finished the contest with 18 points despite his playing time being limited by foul trouble (he picked up his second 12 minutes into the game).
A Chris Crawford three-pointer extended the lead to 21 (60-39) with just over 14 minutes to play and the Tigers cruised the rest of the way.
Geron Johnson paced the Tigers in scoring with 19 points, while Dixon added 18. Shaq Goodwin was limited to five points but pulled down nine rebounds, while senior center David Pellom came off the bench for 10 points and seven boards.
John Egbunu led the Bulls (now 9-5) with 20 points and 14 rebounds. As a team, USF shot 42.3 percent from the field but missed all nine of their three-point attempts. Memphis shot 51.6 percent and hit eight treys.
The Tigers (now 10-2) return to action Saturday when they host Cincinnati in an early game (11 a.m. tip-off) at FedExForum. The game will be a renewal — after five years — of the third-longest series in the Tiger record book. (Only Southern Miss and Louisville have played Memphis more often than the Bearcats' 67 games.) The teams last played on December 29, 2008, a 60-45 Tiger win. One more reason to welcome the new year with some gratitude for the American Athletic Conference.