March 10, 2012
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -
Joe Jackson led five Memphis players in double figures with 19 points and the top-seeded Tigers won their sixth Conference USA tournament championship Saturday by beating Marshall 83-57.
The Tigers (26-8) won their seventh straight game overall in grabbing the league's automatic NCAA tournament berth and the 15th consecutive tournament win on their own court. The Tigers now are 31-8 all-time in tournament games played in Memphis.
Jackson also had six assists, Will Barton added 18 points and 13 rebounds, Wesley Witherspoon had 11 points and Chris Crawford and Ferrakhon Hall each had 10.
Marshall (21-13) lost in its first conference championship since 1997 when the Herd dropped the Southern Conference title game to Chattanooga. The Thundering Herd had become the first No. 6 seed to reach this game, including a triple-overtime win in the quarterfinals.
Now they can only hope their run to the title game with upset wins over Tulsa and Southern Miss earn them an at-large NCAA bid, which would be their first since 1987. DeAndre Kane led Marshall with 16 points. Damier Pitts had 12 and Shaquille Johnson 10.
Josh Pastner became the first Memphis coach to win two tournament championships in his first three seasons, something neither Gene Bartow, Dana Kirk, Larry Finch nor even John Calipari managed here.
The Tigers had a big scare when starting forward Tarik Black crashed into the Marshall bench after flipping a loose ball back out onto the court with 14:18 left. He was down on the floor for a couple minutes before walking to the locker room with a trainer holding his right wrist. He returned to the bench with only a bruised forearm but didn't come back in the game.
Marshall could only get within 57-44 on a fast-break layup by Kane. Memphis answered with consecutive 3s first by Will Barton, then his brother, Antonio. Hall dunked to push the lead to 65-44 with 7:17 left. The Tigers pushed that to as much as 26 down the stretch before Pastner subbed out en masse with 1:20 left to a standing ovation.
The Tigers wound up shooting 57.7 percent (26 of 44) from the floor and a sizzling 25 of 27 at the free throw line (92.6 percent). They even managed to outrebound C-USA's top rebounding team 33-30. Marshall shot just 35.5 percent (22 of 62).
Memphis had been dominating in this winning streak, winning by an average of 22.2 points per game. The regular season champ also had an extra day of rest compared to Marshall, which was playing its fourth game in as many days, including a triple overtime win over Tulsa in getting past the quarterfinals for the first time since moving to this league.
Both teams played very well over the first 10 minutes with Marshall hitting seven of its first 11 in trailing 18-17 on a basket by Dennis Tinnon with 10:58 left.
Then Tinnon, who had averaged a double-double in this tournament, picked up the first two fouls of the game in the next 30 seconds.
Memphis took control with a 17-2 run that featured the Tigers hitting all eight attempts at the free throw line, the last four by Witherspoon for a 28-18 lead. The Tigers pushed it higher when Jackson hit their first 3 on a deep shot, and he finished the spurt with a layup off the fast break for a 35-19 lead. Memphis led 45-27 at halftime.
Fatigue seemed to catch up with the Thundering Herd as they finished the half hitting only three of their final 15 shots. Memphis had no such problems with a heavy blue home crowd ready to cheer and provide an extra boost of energy whenever needed.