Memphis depth evident in win over Rutgers

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. — With their top scorer, guard Joe Jackson, having an off night, the Memphis Tigers turned to a reserve for some much-needed offense against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Thursday.

Guard Michael Dixon Jr. recorded 15 points, 13 coming in the second half, to help No. 22 Memphis turn back Rutgers 64-59 at the Rutgers Athletic Center. The usually reliable Jackson scored 11 points for the Tigers (20-6, 8-5 American Athletic Conference) but was just 3 of 12 from the field.

Memphis extended its streak of winning at least 14 games to 20 seasons.

“You don’t take 20 wins for granted, it is not a birthright,” said Memphis coach Josh Pastner. “It is a special thing. I love our players for reaching 20. It is a lovely thing — God bless the United States of America.”

Forwards Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols contributed 10 points each for the Tigers. Rutgers (10-17, 4-10) was paced by junior forward Kadeem Jack’s 22 points and 10 rebounds.

Memphis, which is fourth in the nation in assists, dished out 16 assists on 22 of its shots, but also had as many turnovers. Guard Chris Dixon led the Tigers with five assists.

“We had too many turnovers with 34 in our last two games,” admitted Pastner. “Some of those turnovers are unforced errors. It’s not like teams are pressing us, it is that we are not being smart with the basketball, too casual.”

Rutgers dropped four of its last five games and its third straight to a ranked opponent. Coach Eddie Jordan’s team lost to SMU (77-65) on Feb. 14 and Louisville (102-54) on Feb. 16.

“It was a heck of a window for us,” said Jordan about the rugged three-game stretch. “We had SMU, Louisville and Memphis. That is a heck of a window. I thought we closed it out solidly with a great effort and a chance to win here against Memphis, who clobbered us (on the road).

“We had to have some type of redemption. The first thing I asked was, ‘Do we belong?’ That was the first thing I asked in pre-game, ‘Do we belong?’ Yes we belong.

“We just didn’t get that little mini run, that dagger that just would get us over the hump. I thought we closed out pretty good.”

The Scarlet Knights managed to draw as close as five points at 56-51 on two free throws by Craig Brown with 1:45 left to play, but Dixon’s 3-pointer upped the Memphis lead to 59-51 with 1:16 remaining.

“I tried to be aggressive, but at the same time I tried to stay within the confines of the team,” Dixon said. “My teammates put me in a position to make plays.

“Joe (Jackson) doesn’t have many off nights. But I saw him and Chris (Crawford) miss a couple of shots they normally make, so I took it upon myself to make some plays and fortunately enough the ball was able to go in.”

Rutgers went nearly three minutes, from the 6:43 mark to 3:45, without making a basket from the floor.

Memphis led 36-27 before Jack scored eight of Rutgers’s next 10 points to cut the Tigers’ lead to 43-37 with 12:11 to go.

Goodwin scored eight points to help Memphis take a 28-21 halftime lead. The Tigers overcame the poor shooting of Jackson, who made only one of 10 first-half shots.

Rutgers used a 7-0 burst to get as close as 24-21 with 2:21 to go in the first half after trailing by as many as 10 points early in the game.

The Tigers started off hitting their first four shots from the floor and two from the line to jump to a 12-2 advantage four minutes into the game. Guard Geron Johnson contributed five points in the run.

NOTES: Memphis is 36-4 in games following a loss under coach Josh Pastner. The Tigers lost in overtime to Connecticut on Feb. 15th. … Memphis was making its first trip to New Jersey since 1953, when it defeated Seton Hall 103-85 in East Orange. … With seven points, Rutgers G Myles Mack moved into 25th on the school’s career scoring list with 1, 148 points. He passed Steve Kaplan (1969-72), who had 1,146. … Rutgers junior G Malick Kone played