Memphis rolls over Houston

By By The Sports Xchange
POSTED: 8:28 PM PST January 23, 2014    UPDATED: 8:28 PM PST January 23, 2014 

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- There are a lot of ways to say it, but however you say it the No. 23 Memphis Tigers never gave the Houston Cougars a chance to breathe and won going away, 82-59, Thursday night at the FedExForum.

"It was good," said guard Michael Dixon, who scored 13 points off the bench for Memphis. "Sometimes we get a lead and tend to relax a little. We kept the pedal to the floor, our foot on their throat."

The Tigers (14-4, 4-2 in the American Athletic Conference) had reason to feel a little mean. They had lost their first two home games in the AAC to Cincinnati and Connecticut. They hadn't started 0-2 at home in conference play since 1998-99.

"It was important," senior forward David Pellom said. "We got the crowd back behind us."

Forward Shaq Goodwin scored 20 points and guard Joe Jackson finished with 18 points, seven assists and three steals. Guard Geron Johnson chipped in eight points and five assists.

Houston (11-8, 3-3) trailed 47-32 at the half. The Cougars cut the lead to 13 at the 13:31 mark on a 3-pointer by guard Brandon Morris, but never pulled closer. Forward TaShawn Thomas led the Cougars with 14 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two blocks. Morris had 13 points and four steals. Guard LeRon Barnes scored 10 points and guard L.J. Rose handed out 10 assists.

Houston's season's has been up and down. The Cougars beat then-No. 17 Connecticut at home on Dec. 31 and only lost by one to Cincinnati. But they took a 91-52 thumping at then-No. 18 Louisville and offered little resistance Thursday against Memphis.

The last time the Cougars were within single digits came at the 4:23 mark in the first half when a made free throw by guard Jherrod Stiggers sliced the lead to nine, at 39-30. Thomas said the Cougars were in trouble long before then.

"At shootaround, it didn't feel like anybody was focused," he said.

Goodwin got the Tigers off to a fast start, scoring 12 of the team's first 14 points as Memphis took a 14-4 lead at the 15:34 mark. Goodwin finished the first half with 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting from the floor.

"Joe, as well as Shaq, gave us great energy," Tigers coach Josh Pastner said. "Shaq, with the start he did have, got the whole team going and we went from there. Our game plan is to play inside out."

And they did. At will.

"We kind of played matador defense," Cougars coach James Dickey said. "Shaq did a good job and we made some bad rotations."

Turnovers were a problem, too, as the Cougars' 18 miscues led to 18 Memphis points. The Tigers handed out 20 assists.

Memphis shot 58.9 percent (33-for-56). The Tigers are now 9-0 this season when shooting 50 percent or better.

Concerned his team had lost its focus a bit, Pastner had put players through what he called a "mini-boot camp" in an effort to bring back intensity and attention to detail. It seemed to give Memphis an edge.

"I wouldn't say angry," Johnson said of the players' mindset, "just an overcoming mood. Anybody in your way, annihilate them."

Said Pastner: "Practice every day consisted of a little over an hour worth of defense then a couple of minutes of shooting. For the first time, I only focused on defense before a game."

Houston had one small run in the first half, when it outscored Memphis 9-2 over a little more than two-minute span to get within three, at 16-13, with 13:14 to play. After that, all Memphis. The Cougars shot 42.6 percent for the game (23-for-54).

"Tonight we showed we can do it the whole game," Pellom said. "Tonight we played with energy."

NOTES: The Tigers had made 164 steals coming into Thursday night's game, a 9.6 average, and were second in the AAC in that category. The Tigers' four senior guards all have 24 or more steals and Chris Crawford leads with 33. ... Memphis coach Josh Pastner grew up in Kingswood, Texas, which is about 20 miles from the University of Houston campus. ... Cougars junior F TaShawn Thomas is the only player in the AAC to rank among the league's top-6 leaders in both scoring (16.7, 6th) and rebounding (8.7, 2nd).