Wednesday night (Jan. 29) North Carolina and Georgia Tech were scheduled for primetime coverage, but thanks to an ice storm in Atlanta the University of Memphis-Central Florida game was upgraded to ESPN2 coverage. And the nation got another look at what this Memphis squad has to offer.
Now, Central Florida has an elite caliber player in Isaiah Sykes. He could have been the best player on the floor for either team, but his 24 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists weren't enough for the Knights.
Knotted at 39, the Knights looked poised to upset the #22 ranked Tigers after the first 20 minutes. But those hopes would be dashed in the second half as Memphis rallied for a ten-point win 69-59.
The Tigers' defense has been imposing as of late, holding their last three opponents to less than 60 points. A key to these dominating defensive outings is causing turnovers. Memphis has forced at least 11 turnovers in every outing this year.
Sophomore Shaq Goodwin has been the catalyst for Memphis' recent uptick, but the second year forward didn't have his best performance against UCF. But as Coach Josh Pastner always says the Tigers roll with their senior guards.
Joe Jackson answered the call providing 17 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, and 4 steals. Those 17 points moved Jackson to 10th on the Memphis career-scoring list. He passed both Phillip Haynes (1479) and Kelly Wise (1487). He now trails Tiger great Chris Douglas-Roberts by 52 points to move into the ninth spot. In addition to his scoring prowess, Jackson's 5 assists moved him to 6th on the all time assists chart (498).
Another guard that stepped up was Chris Crawford. He went 4 for 7 from the field, with all of his attempts coming from three-point range. In the last two games, Crawford has not taken a shot from inside the arc. But why should he? Crawford is 14 of 26 (53.8 percent) from three in the last five games and seems to be heating up in the latter part of the season, much like he did last year.
With their last three opponents in the bottom half of the conference, it was expected that Memphis would rack up consecutive wins; however, a looming trip to Dallas to face a hungry SMU squad under the guidance of acclaimed Coach Larry Brown will prove a serious test for the Tigers.
The Mustangs boast a similar record to the Tigers and have stellar freshman Keith Frazier on their roster. News has recently surfaced about a possible high school grade scandal involving Frazier (among other SMU players), but it surely won't affect the lineups this Saturday.
Memphis will look to win their fifth game in a row and justify its spot amongst the top of the American Athletic Conference. All the while, SMU looks to validate its own season with a win over a top 25 team. Either way, it should make for an interesting game to watch for the True Blue Nation and everyone else for that matter. Tip-off is at 1 p.m. Saturday on the CBS sports network.