Chris Crawford scored 13 of his team-high 15 points in the second half, leading Memphis to a 56-54 win over UTEP before a crowd of 11,581 on Tuesday night at the Don Haskins Center.
The Tigers (26-4, 15-0 C-USA) outrebounded the Miners (16-13, 9-6 C-USA) 38-25 and shot 52 percent in the second half in posting their 22nd consecutive victory over a C-USA team.
“We got beat by one of the best teams in the United States tonight,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “We had our opportunities. We all know what those opportunities were, without singling out players. We had some chances at the free throw line late that we didn’t convert.”
UTEP finished 13-for-19 at the charity stripe. John Bohannon missed the front end of a one-and-one with the Miners up 47-44 and 6:21 remaining, and Jacques Streeter missed two free throws with UTEP down 56-53 and 52 seconds left.
Following Bohannon’s miss, Crawford buried a wide open three-pointer to tie the game. Streeter’s misses changed the complexion of the final 30 seconds, with UTEP forced to go for a long-range shot in order to send the game to overtime. The Miners caught a break when C.J. Cooper was fouled on a three-point attempt with five seconds to go, but he missed the first foul shot. He made the second, intentionally missed the third and Tarik Black secured the defensive rebound with the Miners attempting to tip the ball into the basket.
UTEP had another opportunity when the Tigers’ Geron Johnson turned over the ball with two seconds left. Streeter raced down court, but his runner from three-point territory misfired and the Tigers escaped El Paso with another close win.
Johnson had a game-high 10 rebounds to lead Memphis. Adonis Thomas collected 11 points and nine rebounds, and Black had nine points and six boards.
“That’s a nice luxury they’ve got to bring Crawford and Black off the bench -- two great, great players,” Floyd said. “They played spirited defensively. They crushed us on the glass. We didn’t have enough second chance opportunities.
“I was really pleased with the job we did on [Joe] Jackson and Johnson. Julian Washburn had a great game defensively on Johnson and a great game offensively as well. We were able to get him to the line more than normal, which really helps him. Ced [Lang] did a nice job on Black for long stretches of the game, and their other big fella [Shaq] Goodwin. It’s a great team, one of the more talented teams I’ve coached against. I’m really proud of our guys’ effort.”
Washburn made 6-of-9 shots and all seven free throws, scoring 19 points, while coercing Johnson into a four-point night. Lang was the only other Miner in double figure scoring, finishing with 10 points and seven boards.
The teams played to a halftime deadlock (22-22), but Memphis surged to a 39-32 lead, its largest of the night, on two free throws by Thomas with 12:31 remaining. UTEP went on a 13-4 run, turning a 40-34 deficit into a 47-44 lead. After Memphis scored the next four points, Washburn put the Miners into the lead for the last time, 49-48, on two free throws at the 4:37 mark.
Black converted a three-point play on the other end with 4:20 on the clock. UTEP tied the game at 51 on a Washburn jumper with 3:16 left before Thomas gave the Tigers the lead for good on a three-pointer with 2:53 to go.
“Crawford got a couple of looks in transition that just killed us,” Floyd said. “We didn’t locate him early in the second half, then at about the seven-minute mark. Thomas’ three was big. But we had our chances coming back. Jacques missed a couple of free throws. Bo had a turnover back in the lane. C.J. had the chance to knock down threes in a pressure situation. He’ll get better at those situations the more he plays.”
The Miners will likely need a win at SMU on Saturday to wrap up the no. 3 seed in next week’s Conference USA Tournament. Due to renovations being performed on Moody Coliseum, the game will be played at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland. Time Warner Cable Sports will carry the game with tip-off at 1 p.m. MT.
“I think we’ve got to continue to try to grow. We’ve got two practices before we go to play SMU,” Floyd said. “It would be nice to win that game and try to get opposite [Memphis] in the conference tournament, try to get fortunate and win a couple of games to have another shot at those guys in the finals. You don’t necessarily want to see them in the second round.
“Our guys have guarded well here for the last month of the season. We had some looks at the three-point line and the foul line that we didn’t get down. We had more turnovers than normal tonight. I think you have to credit their length, their speed and their quickness. It’s really a special group of athletes.”
The Miners held a sixth straight opponent under 60 points on Tuesday, but their string of consecutive games holding teams under 40 percent shooting ended at five as the Tigers made 22-of-52 field goal attempts (42.3 percent).