As the Tigers cling to membership in the country's Top 25, they've come to establish themselves as masters of the bounceback win. Tonight at FedExForum — and for the fifth time this season — the U of M erased the memory of a loss in its previous outing with a victory. And for the fourth time, the bounceback was decisive.
The sparse crowd had barely tucked away its umbrellas before the Tigers knocked the Scarlet Knights off their proverbial horse. Behind nine early points from freshman forward Austin Nichols, the Tigers took a 22-3 lead eight-and-a-half minutes into the game. Back-to-back three-pointers by senior Chris Crawford four minutes later extended the lead to 37-9. Rutgers would not close within 20 points the remainder of the contest.
"We didn't want the loss at SMU to really affect us," said Nichols, who finished with 18 points (on 8-of-9 shooting) in 27 minutes. "We trust the process. We played more inside-out basketball. If we continue to do that, I think we'll be a successful team."
As for his performance, Nichols felt there was a right-place-right-time component to his highest scoring output since November. "It helps knowing my teammates have confidence in me," he said. "I felt like I was in the right positions at the right time. I kept running the floor. Teammates were giving me the ball in position to score."
Nichols was but one of six Tigers with at least a dozen points, Joe Jackson adding 16, Michael Dixon 15, Shaq Goodwin 13, and Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson with 12 each. After hitting only six of 24 three-point attempts last Saturday at SMU, Memphis drilled 12 of 19 tonight, Crawford leading the way with four. The pride of Sheffield High School has now hit 14 treys in the Tigers' last four games. He also pulled down 11 rebounds and had five assists. As a team, the Tigers dished out 26 assists, the eighth time this season they've reached 20 dimes.
"We played with a sense of urgency," said Dixon. "The seniors, we've got 10 more games [in the regular season]. We've got to play like we're in a fox hole.
Memphis, now 17-5 (7-3 in the American) held Rutgers to 41 percent from the field. Kadeem Jack paced the visitors with 12 points.
Next for the 24th-ranked Tigers will be a nonconference tilt with Gonzaga, the Bulldogs visiting Saturday night for a game that will be featured on ESPN's "GameDay." (This will be the third time FedExForum has hosted the broadcast crew. Memphis lost to Louisville in 2005 and fell to Tennessee in 2008.)
"It's gonna be fun," said Dixon with a grin. "I'm fortunate. I got to play in a 'GameDay' game [with Missouri] against Kansas. I know what it's like with all the fans, all the excitement."