MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis Tigers had suffered through some awful shooting games from 3-point range this season. But even after the worst of those times, including two games in which they were 2-for-17, they vowed they were better than that and would show it.
For a day, No. 23 Memphis made good on that promise and shot down its reputation as a poor 3-point shooting team. The Tigers made a season-high 10 3-pointers Sunday afternoon at the FedExForum and defeated the South Florida Bulls 80-58 in an American Athletic Conference game.
“If the shot’s there, you gotta take it and knock it down,” said Memphis guard Chris Crawford, who led the barrage by hitting 5-of-10 from 3-point range and scoring 15 points.
“You’ve got to be able to make the 3-point shot,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “It’s imperative. It’s the equalizer and/or the difference-maker.”
Coming into the game, Memphis ranked ninth in the AAC in 3-point field-goal percentage (30.4). But the Tigers made 7-of-12 threes in the second half and finished 10-for-22 (45.5 percent).
Memphis (15-4, 5-2) swept the season series with USF (10-10, 1-6). The Tigers have won five of their last six games while the Bulls dropped their fourth straight. USF is now 0-5 against ranked opponents this season.
Although guard Geron Johnson did not really contribute to the Tigers’ 3-point shooting prowess (1-for-4 Sunday), he has been the most vocal about the team’s outside shooting ability.
“We’re taking the same shots,” he said, rejecting the idea shot selection had improved. “They’re just falling.”
Johnson had seven assists with no turnovers and scored eight points. As a team, Memphis had 23 assists on 25 field goals.
“We’re an inside-out team,” said Memphis forward Shaq Goodwin, who finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds. “We establish that presence in the post and it opens up the floor for our shooters.”
The Tigers’ four senior guards — Crawford, Johnson, Joe Jackson (14 points and seven assists) and Michael Dixon (eight points, five rebounds and three assists) — combined to score 45 points. They also had 18 assists and just six turnovers. They even chipped in 15 rebounds.
“Nobody has the talent (in the AAC) at the four guard spots they do,” said USF coach Stan Heath. “They all have ball skills, passing skills, scoring skills, and they all guard. And they’re all seniors and I can’t wait for them to leave.”
Trailing by 12 at the half, USF guard Corey Allen Jr. hit a 3-pointer at the 19:43 mark to get the Bulls within single digits at 34-25. But Jackson hit a three at 19:17, and Memphis went back up by 12 as it began to pull away. Memphis led by as many as 30 in the second half.
Guard Martino Brock paced the Bulls with 17 points. USF shot 33.9 percent (21-for-62). The Tigers shot 49 percent (29-for-51).
The only real flaw in the Tigers’ game was free-throw shooting. They made just 57.1 percent, going 20-for-35.
“We definitely gotta be more focused on the free throws,” Crawford said.
USF stayed with Memphis for a while and trailed by just two, 24-22, after a dunk by forward Chris Perry with 4:15 to play in the first half. But Memphis closed the half on a 10-0 run and took a 34-22 lead into the break.
The Bulls have played three straight games against ranked opponents, losing at home to then-No. 19 Cincinnati, 61-54, then taking an 86-47 pounding from No. 12 Louisville at home. After Sunday’s 22-point loss Heath was asked what needs to happen to improve the team’s fortunes.
“A schedule change, for one,” Heath said.
Memphis has had 20 or more assists in four of its last five games, the exception being when Connecticut beat the Tigers at home and Memphis had just 17 assists with 17 turnovers.
Sharing the ball, Jackson said, is making all the difference in the offense and the game’s outcome.
“We’ve got a very unselfish team,” Jackson said. “We like to see each other shine.”
NOTES: Coming into Sunday’s game, the Tigers boasted two of the top four AAC players in assist/turnover ratio. G Joe Jackson ranked second, at 2.1, and G Chris Crawford
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