No. 24 Memphis was struggling in the first six-plus minutes of the second half in their non-conference battle with No. 23 Gonzaga. Gonzaga led by just three point at the half, but they outscored the Tigers 17-9 to open the second stanza and led 42-31 with 13:41 remaining. Memphis needed a spark, and it was at this point that Joe Jackson (on his birthday) made a play.
7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski went up for the dunk attempt, and with the 6-foot-1 Jackson being the only person between he and the basket it seemed certain that the sophomore big man would extend Gonzaga’s lead to 13 points. But Jackson had other ideas.
That block would spark an 11-2 run to pull the Tigers to within three points, and Memphis would use a 12-2 run later in the second half to grab control of the game. Memphis would go on to win by the final score of 60-54, scoring the final ten points of the game. Memphis ramped up the intensity on the defensive end of the floor, suddenly keeping the Bulldogs out of the paint and making them hoist up challenged perimeter shots that missed their mark.
Gonzaga scoring 20 of its 25 points in the paint, with Shaq Goodwin picking up his second foul making it easier for the Bulldogs to work the ball inside. Frankly, Memphis was soft defensively. They got tougher in the second half, with Jackson’s block serving as the catalyst the Tigers needed.
And that carried over to the offensive end as well. Memphis scored just 16 points in the paint in the second half but they attacked, and the result was 24 free throw attempts (making 17) after attempting just three free throws in the first half. Michael Dixon Jr. scored all 11 of his points in the second half and freshman Nick King, while he did struggle at the foul line, provided a much-needed spark on the boards.
The question for Memphis in the aftermath of this comeback win is why don’t they play like this consistently? On too many occasions this season Josh Pastner’s team has settled for rushed perimeter shots instead of attacking the paint, either by way of dribble penetration or the pass. Memphis has some more big games in front of them with Louisville, UConn, Cincinnati and SMU all on the schedule, so there are opportunities for more quality wins.
And if they bring the effort they put forth in the final 12 minutes against Gonzaga, Memphis is certainly capable of taking advantage of those opportunities.