memphis smu

No. 20 Memphis overcomes sluggish start in win over No. 18 SMU

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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.

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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.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

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.

Marcus Paige, Joel Berry lead No. 9 North Carolina past No. 2 Maryland

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — He’s back.

For the first time this season — and for the first time in more than a year that he hasn’t been hampered with some kind of foot or ankle injury — Marcus Paige donned a North Carolina jersey, and it didn’t take him long to find the form that made him the Preseason National Player of the Year.

On the first Tar Heel possession, Paige came off of a ball-screen, drove the lane and found Kennedy Meeks at the rim for a layup. Not 30 seconds later, he came off of a down screen and buried a three. Paige would finish with 20 points and five assists as No. 9 North Carolina put together a fairly resounding win over No. 2 Maryland in the Dean Dome on Tuesday night, winning 89-81.

Paige finished 7-for-12 from the floor and 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, hitting a number of threes in the second half that helped hold off a Maryland push sparked by their own all-american point guard, Melo Trimble.

Trimble was erratic early on, committing three turnovers in the first six minutes and eight on the night, but it was his play at the end of the first half and early second half that kept North Carolina from blowing their doors. At one point, Maryland was down 32-19 and in danger of getting run out of Tobacco Road.

In total, Trimble finished with 23 points and 12 assists, hitting four big threes during that stretch. He either scored or assisted on 11 of Maryland’s first 12 second half field goals.

As good as Paige was, the bigger story may actually be Joel Berry II. He took two dumb threes in the first half — which played a role in Maryland being able to make this a game — and he missed a few free throws late, but overall he was terrific. He finished with 14 points and five assists, making 3-of-5 threes and turning the ball over just twice. He’s clearly beat Nate Britt out at the point guard spot, and his ability to take pressure off of Paige as a secondary ball-handler and playmaker is huge.

(More to come from Chapel Hill…)

VIDEO: Melo Trimble drops Nate Britt with a crossover

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North Carolina is hosting No. 2 Maryland in a heated contest in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Terps sophomore guard Melo Trimble is playing very well and part of his performance was dropping North Carolina’s Nate Britt with a crossover in the second half.

(H/T: The Cauldron)