After having an 18-game win streak halted last time out, the 19th-ranked Memphis Tigers get back to Conference USA business, as they set their sights on the UCF Knights on Saturday.
Josh Pastner's Tigers trailed early on but came roaring back to make a game of it, but the result was still a 64-62 defeat at non-conference foe Xavier last time out. The loss dropped Memphis to 24-4 on the season, but did not affect its perfect mark in league play, as the Tigers still sit three games up in the conference standings at a perfect 13-0 with three to play.
Donnie Jones' Knights also took a break from conference action last time out, easing by Georgia Southwestern on Tuesday, 65-50. The win was the second straight and moved the team to 19-9 on the year. UCF is a solid 8-5 in league play, tied with UTEP for third place in the standings.
Both these teams are making the move to the Big East next year. Currently, Memphis holds a 13-1 edge in the all-time series and has won three straight meetings, including a 93-71 rout a couple of weeks ago at the FedExForum.
The Tigers came back from a 13-point second half deficit against the Musketeers, but were unable to complete the comeback bid, falling by two points at the Cintas Center. Geron Johnson led three Tigers in double figures with 14 points. Joe Jackson finished with 11 points, while Chris Crawford came off the bench to tally 10. Memphis really struggled on the boards, getting outrebounded 45-36, while allowing Xavier to grab 17 offensive boards, leading to 18 second-chance points.
Memphis is usually a team with great offensive depth, with six players averaging over eight points per game, including three in double figures. Overall, the Tigers are netting 75.1 ppg, on a healthy .479 shooting. Jackson serves as both the team's top scorer (13.7 ppg) and primary distributor (4.7 apg). Adonis Thomas is next in the scoring column at 11.7 ppg, followed closely by Johnson and his 10.8 ppg. Tarik Black (8.8 ppg), Crawford (8.3 ppg) and Shaq Goodwin (8.2 ppg) give the team several other options at the offensive end.
The Knights used a 20-0 run early in the second half to cruise past Georgia Southwestern on Tuesday. Kasey Wilson had a big game, hitting five 3-pointers en route to a game-high 20 points. Tristan Spurlock added 13 points to the cause, while Isaiah Sykes (11 points, nine steals) and Keith Clanton (nine points, 12 rebounds) just missed double-doubles. Sykes' nine steals were the most by a Knight since 2003.
Sykes' stat line against Georgia Southwestern read 11 points, nine steals and eight rebounds, as he almost recorded his third triple-double of the season. Sykes is obviously the straw that stirs the drink for UCF and is one of the most versatile players in not only the conference, but the nation, with season averages of 15.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. Clanton is next in line in the scoring column (14.9 ppg), while pacing the team on the boards (8.7 rpg). Spurlock (11.4 ppg) and Calvin Newell (11.1 ppg) provide scoring depth for a squad averaging 71.1 ppg.