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Conference title hopes now dangling for Tigers

Roll back the calendar a week and Memphis was slated to square off against two of the top teams in Conference USA.

by J.R. Moorhead
Special to the Tri-State Defender

Roll back the calendar a week and Memphis was slated to square off against two of the top teams in Conference USA. With multiple teams in the conference sporting only one loss, the games carried the possibility of shaping the Tigers’ future.

First up was a FedExForum stand against Marshall last Saturday night (Jan. 28). After Will Barton and Tarik Black were ejected for coming off the bench against Rice in the previous game, the story that had the talking heads chattering early was the chances that two of Memphis’ top players might not be eligible to compete in the match up.

Marshall has proved to be a formidable opponent this year, but unfortunately for the Thundering Herd, Memphis was at full strength for the game. Neither Barton nor Black was suspended and that proved to be crucial for the Tigers.

Barton played the entire 40 minutes and had 29 points and 8 rebounds to show for his efforts. Black also played heavy minutes. He managed to drop 19 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 32 minutes. Black has been plagued by foul trouble this year, so being able to be in the game for over thirty minutes is a habit Tiger fans would love for him to form.

When the final horn blew, the Tigers had defeated Marshall by a count of 83-76. Memphis improved to 15-6 (6-1 C-USA), but any energy used for celebration of a clutch conference win was probably more wisely used on focus for Memphis’ upcoming road test.

The Tigers traveled to Hattiesburg, Miss. to take on the Golden Eagles of Southern Mississippi on Wednesday night (Feb. 1).  Memphis had not lost to USM in 18 straight contests and the Eagles were out to end that streak in front of their home crowd.

And they did.

Memphis came up three short, losing by a final of 72-75. The Tigers did have a last chance as Chris Crawford missed a three at the end, but Memphis’ fans probably won’t hold a grudge.

Crawford scored a career high 23 points connecting on 5-7 from behind the arc.  Unfortunately for Memphis, his output was not enough to top the Eagles and the game has become a turning point in the season.

Memphis drops to 15-7 (6-2 C-USA) and falls to second in the conference rankings behind a Southern Miss team with only one loss.

This truly has been a season of letdowns for the True Blue Nation. The fans came into the season riding high on a top-10 preseason ranking. Now the very real possibility looms that Memphis might not even win the regular season title in C-USA. The Tigers are by no means out of the running, but they are virtually going to have to win out to have a chance at achieving that goal.

And if the Tigers do not win the conference outright the fans are going to have to hope for an encore of Memphis’ tournament performance last season. With the conference tournament being held in Memphis, the drama will only build.


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