Memphis overcame a sluggish first half on Saturday as they got past American conference adversary SMU with a 67-58 home win.
The No. 20 Tigers shot 34.5 percent in the first half as their four senior guards combined to go 3-for-17 from the three-point line, but Joe Jackson and the Tigers stepped it up in the second half to put away another top-25 opponent.
Jackson scored 15 of his 18 points in the second half and Memphis also had the benefit of Chris Crawford (nine points) heating up for a stretch as well as some jumpers from Mike Dixon Jr. (nine points). But what really makes Memphis a potentially great team is when their bigs get involved.
Trailing 30-26 at the half, Memphis freshman forward Austin Nichols scored four quick points and blocked a shot early in the half to set an early tone for Memphis. Nichols finished with 14 points and nine rebounds and looks so much more confident than he did during the early portion of the AAC schedule.
Although Shaq Goodwin’s stat line of two points and four rebounds doesn’t look good on paper, he was an active interior defender and added four steals and three assists.
The growing chemistry between Goodwin and Nichols is fun to watch. Although Memphis’ guards dominate the headlines — and with four senior guards, they should — Goodwin and Nichols make for an interesting high-low big man duo on offense while they’re also improving playing off of each other on defense. Nichols added three blocks on the afternoon and many times it was on weak side blocks as Goodwin was guarding his man and providing the initial pressure. Markus Kennedy still had some easy ones down low, but those are becoming less of a trend for the Memphis defense.
Before the year, people were critical of Josh Pastner — and to an extent Memphis — because Pastner had never beaten a top-25 opponent. Now the Tigers own five wins over top-25 opponents this season and if they play balanced basketball and get their big men involved, they should get a couple more in the postseason.