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VOL. 129 | NO. 19 | Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Memphis Finally Finding Touch From Deep

By Don Wade

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When the Memphis Tigers missed 15 of 17 threes against Southeast Missouri State, the players and coach Josh Pastner said not to worry. And they had a 77-65 victory in that game to back them up.

But two weeks later, they again went 2-for-17 from long range at FedExForum against Cincinnati (11.8 percent, for the record) and wound up on the wrong end of a 69-53 score.

Memphis guard Chris Crawford shoots a 3-pointer late in the second half of Sunday’s game against South Florida. The Tigers shot a season-high 10 threes in the 80-58 victory, hitting 10 of 22 attempts.

(AP Photo/Lance Murphey)

By that point, the Tigers’ 3-point shooting was under fire, and they carried a 30.4 percent 3-point shooting percentage into Sunday’s game against the University of South Florida. That put the Tigers ninth in the 10-team American Athletic Conference.

So, naturally, they went out and shot down that reputation as a lousy 3-point shooting team by hitting a season-high 10 threes against USF in an easy 80-58 victory. Memphis shook off a 3-for-10 first half to hit 7 of 12 threes in the second was 10-for-22 overall (45.5 percent).

“If the shot’s there, you gotta take it and knock it down,” said guard Chris Crawford, who hit 5 of 10 threes and is the team’s leading 3-point shooter at 39.4 percent (39-for-99) this season.

Now ranked No. 22 in the Associated Press Top 25, and 15-4 overall, 5-2 in the AAC, the Tigers’ outside shooting has the potential to give their offense an injection of extra firepower.

The good shooting day raised the Tigers’ 3-point percentage for the season to 31.5 percent. That’s not great, but their accuracy seemed to dovetail with the overall strategy of playing through the post first and sharing the ball. In fact, their first score of the game was a feed to forward Shaq Goodwin by the rim.

“We’re an inside-out team,” said Goodwin, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds against USF. “We establish that presence in the post, and it opens up the floor for our shooters.”

There is an old saying in basketball: If you’re open, there’s a reason. For much of this season, that has been true. Guard Joe Jackson said he even noticed teams starting to give him more room. He made the Bulls pay both from the outside and in the lane as he knocked down 2 of 3 threes and went to the foul line 10 times, making eight, on the way to 14 points.

Even so, Jackson is still shooting just 24.5 percent (13-for-53) from behind the arc; guard Geron Johnson is at 22.2 percent (12-for-54); and guard Michael Dixon Jr., who hit 2 of 3 on Sunday, is now up to 38 percent (27-for-71).

“They’re not statistically a good shooting team (from the outside) this year, but you always have to be careful with the type of guys they have,” USF coach Stan Heath said. “Chris Crawford is a really great 3-point shooter and Joe Jackson is pretty good. You always have to watch Johnson and Dixon Jr. They just haven’t done it consistently throughout the year.”

But if they could develop consistency the rest of the way?

“They’d really be dangerous,” Heath said. “They could be at the top of the league; they could win it.”

Johnson, for his part, has said all along the Tigers’ shooting would improve and rejected the idea that they are now taking better shots.

“We’re taking the same shots,” he insisted. “They’re just falling.”

It is more than a coincidence, Pastner said, that on a day when they shot well, they also had 23 assists on 25 made field goals.

“When you share the basketball, shots are going to fall,” he said.

Now, if the Tigers can just do something about their free-throw shooting. They went 20-for-35 at the line Sunday (57.1 percent) and are shooting 64.6 percent for the season.

Said Crawford: “We definitely gotta be more focused on the free throws.”

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