University of Memphis sophomore guard Chris Crawford, as prolific a shooter as he is, couldn’t recall having a start like the one he and his team experienced Saturday night.
“I guess tonight, we were just feeling it,” Crawford said. “Everybody was feeling it, you know, feeling their shots. We just knocked down almost every shot that we took.”
Crawford finished with nine points, all of which came on three-pointers, as the No. 21 Tigers (4-2) poured in 11 3-pointers by halftime to easily dispose of Austin Peay, 91-60, in front of 16,989 at FedExForum.
The Tigers finished with 15 3-pointers, the second-most in a single game in school history. They shot 57 percent for the game overall and 60 percent from deep.
Sophomore guard Will Barton led the Tigers with 22 points and 13 rebounds, his second double-double of the season. He was 3-of-5 from beyond the arc.
The Governors, who shot 33.3 percent for the game, were led by forward Melvin Baker, who scored 15 points.
“When we’re hitting shots, we’re one of the best teams in the country because we play defense all the time,” Barton said. “When our offense is clicking like that, it’s going to be a tough night for anybody we play against.”
Memphis, not exactly known for its perimeter shooting, opened the game on six straight three-pointers, including two from freshman wing Adonis Thomas, who scored 17 points.
More importantly, the Tigers didn’t fall victim to their own perimeter successes. Rather than getting caught up in the hot start, Memphis paced itself and played within its own offense, which — as coach Josh Pastner has said repeatedly during his time with Memphis — is predicated around the “open man.”
The Tigers tallied 23 assists on 32 made baskets, which marks the third time this season Memphis has accounted for assists on 50 percent or more of its made baskets.
Memphis is 3-0 in those games.
“I felt our shots were good. They were in rhythm. Our team’s not gonna live and die by the three, but we’re gonna take open shots,” Pastner said. “When we move the ball, throw the ball ahead and make the extra pass and get to the second and third side, we’re gonna have shots in rhythm. We’ve just gotta stick them.”
Pastner and Memphis got a huge lift from the freshman Thomas, who led the team with five threes. If there was a knock on Thomas coming out of high school, it was his inability to consistently shoot from deep.
But the way Thomas sees it, he and the Tigers successfully quelled any questions about their shooting sufficiency.
“If a team sees that we hit this many outside shots, they’re gonna say, ‘Okay, well, we gotta close out on everybody.’ But we also have guys that can attack the rim,” Thomas said. “If they play a zone, they know we’ll make outside shots. If they play us man, they know we’re gonna attack. It’s gonna be hard to guard us when we have the elite players that we do.”
After being outrebounded in four of their past five games, the Tigers found themselves on the better side of a 42-37 rebounding margin. The Governors, though, pulled down 19 offensive boards and scored 11 second-chance points.
With the Governors’ effort Saturday, Memphis has now allowed 11 or more offensive rebounds in five of its six contests this season. The Tigers are 304th in the nation with just 31.6 rebounds per game.
“We’re at the point where it’s just (about) pure effort,” said sophomore forward Tarik Black, who broke free from his slump and finished with 10 points and five rebounds. “I’m playing myself in shape right now to get better and to be able to play more. I think if I’m in the game, the rebounding situation will be a lot better.”
One positive sign for Memphis, though, was that it was able to take a commanding lead over an inferior opponent early and remain in control of the game for the duration.
The Tigers went into halftime ahead 52-27 and played with just as much defensive intensity — if not more — in the second half, limiting the Governors to 16.7 percent shooting from three and forcing them into eight turnovers.
“That’s one of our things, to make sure you can’t have any slippage,” Pastner said. “You gotta have that same intensity. Like I told our guys, Austin Peay is a good team. You can’t let these guys hang around. They make a couple threes, next thing you know it goes from a 25-point lead to 14. We’ve got to keep our foot on the throttle.”