Over his first four seasons as a head coach, Josh Pastner was Conference USA's top spokesman, selling his team's league as being far superior to its reputation. Keeping with that approach, it seems Pastner's Tigers are now doing what they can to sell the rest of the country on the top-to-bottom strength of the American Athletic Conference. Two nights after escaping Rutgers (now 10-17) with a five-point win, the U of M needed overtime to beat a Temple team that entered play tonight sporting a record of 7-18.
Senior guard Joe Jackson finally gave the Tigers the lead for good (78-77) by converting a driving layup to the front of the rim with 2:33 left in the extra period. Following a Temple turnover, sophomore forward Shaq Goodwin got inside for a dunk (on a feed from Jackson) for the final two of his 20 points, all but two of them coming after halftime. Goodwin was ferocious over a six-minute stretch late in the second half, hitting five field goals (three of them dunks) as the teams essentially traded baskets over the game's final ten minutes. Temple had chance to win the game at the end of regulation but a short jumper by Owl guard Will Cummings (24 points on the night) missed its target. A desperation three-point attempt by Austin Nichols — the Tigers' star of the game — was well off the mark as the buzzer sounded with the game tied at 74.
"People try to overlook Temple, like they didn't just beat SMU," said Goodwin. "Every team in this conference is a good team. You can't take any team likely."
As for his second-half explosion, Goodwin said, "I just try to keep my head, stay with the game plan. Things usually open up in the second half. Stay level-headed and do the best I can do."
Goodwin's partner in crime in the frontcourt, Nichols, tallied the first double-double of his college career, and almost made it the Memphis program's fourth triple double: 17 points, 12 rebounds, 7 blocks. "Awesome, awesome," said Goodwin. "He just does what he has to do. Some games, he doesn't have to score that many points. But tonight, with mismatches, we tried to go to him every play."
The Tigers shot 57 percent from the floor and dominated the game inside, outscoring the Owls 56-36 in the paint. But Temple managed to hit 11 three-pointers (on 31 attempts) and the Tigers missed 12 of 21 free throws to keep things far too interesting for a FedExForum crowd of 18,172.
"We were fortunate to stop them when we needed to, and get away with the win," conceded Tiger guard Michael Dixon, who scored 12 points off the bench. "A lot of their shots, we had hands in their faces; they were just able to knock them down. They got a couple of big offensive rebounds we should have come away with."
And about those struggles at the foul line? "We've got to do a better job," said Dixon. "You gotta go up there, take a deep breath, bend your knees, and get good arc on the ball. If you stress on it, it can become magnified. It's a free shot. You gotta make it. Gotta have the right guys up there."
Jackson scored 12 points and handed out eight assists for the Tigers while Geron Johnson added 10 points. Quenton Decosey (23) and Dalton Pepper (20) were among three Owls to score at least 20 points.
The victory improves the Tigers' record to 21-6 and 10-4 in AAC play. They'll travel to Houston for their next game on Thursday. Memphis beat the Cougars by 23 at FedExForum January 23rd.