On Senior Day, the University of Memphis reaped huge dividends from its departing class as the Tigers beat back the SMU Mustangs 67-58 at the FedExForum on Saturday.
"In the second half, the senior guards would not let us be denied," said head coach Josh Pastner. "This win will keep us in the top 25 for the entire season. This is a great feat in itself. Not too many programs stay in the top 25 the whole season."
The nationally televised game was punctuated by ear-ringing energy, with Tigers finding a way to overcome a 30-26 deficit at the half.
"We were 0-6 for three pointers in the first half and 6-13 in the second half. Three-point shooting is why you win games. They (SMU) were 1-5 from behind the arc in the second half, which allowed us to pull away and win the game," said Pastner.
With the Tigers getting significant contributions from several quarters, including Nick King off the bench and consistently improving big man Austin Nichols, the senior guards made plays down the stretch. And if the seniors keep doing that, Pastner said, Memphis will win games.
"Michael Dixon Jr. made a huge three towards the end of the game and Chris Crawford making three shots in a row was outstanding. Chris was struggling in the first half but big players make big plays in important times," said Pastner.
Starting point guard Joe Jackson, who lead Memphis with 18 points, showed an aggressiveness that many had been calling for in recent games.
"This win showed our growth as a team and showed we have a dangerous team," said Jackson. "I was frustrated at halftime and wanted to play better for myself, and my teammates. I had to turn on an extra gear and get the game going. We had to run to speed the tempo up, which we did in the second half. We were able to get easy looks because we got the ball moving."
Geron Johnson, Memphis senior guard, said the Tigers weathered the storm in the first half to get the victory over SMU, which beat Memphis earlier in the season.
"We would like to make next Saturday another senior day and win the conference championship," Johnson, making reference to the American Athletic Conference which will be played at the FedExForum.
"We have to have a sense of urgency, and the ability to make plays."
Senior guard Michael Dixon Jr. said the Tigers treated the game as if it was the last.
"I am happy for our guys and how we played as a team," said Dixon. "We have grown a lot over the course of the year, and I feel like we are moving in the right direction.
Larry Brown, SMU head coach, said his Mustangs did not match Memphis'.
"We had chances to stretch the lead that we didn't take advantage of. It's a great crowd here and a great atmosphere. They (Memphis) had every reason not to play well today after a tough loss at Cincinnati, a quick flight back, but they played well and that's why they're a great program," said Brown.