By David Brandt/The Associated Press
HATTIESBURG — Chris Crawford was feeling so good midway through the first half he stepped back about five feet behind the 3-point line and let one fly.
A “heat check” was what he called it. His other three had been true, so why not a fourth?
To no one’s surprise, the ball swished through the net.
“It was just one of those nights,” Crawford said with a grin.
Geron Johnson scored 25 points, Chris Crawford added 16 and Memphis beat Southern Miss 89-76 to stay unbeaten in Conference USA.
Memphis (20-3, 9-0 C-USA) won its 14th straight game and its 10th straight on the road, turning a tight game into a comfortable win during the final minutes. Johnson made 8 of 11 shots from the field and had a terrific all-around game, adding eight rebounds, seven assists and four steals.
Johnson and Crawford were the headliners, but really, the entire Memphis team was hot. The Tigers shot 55.9 percent from the field to silence a packed Reed Green Coliseum.
Memphis coach Josh Pastner said he couldn’t take credit for the win or the superb offense.
“This is a player’s game and players make plays,” Pastner said. “We made some plays, we made some shots. That’s just the bottom line to it. They made a lot of good shots in the first half and a few big ones in the second half too. This was just two high-level teams going at it and it was a high-level basketball game.”
Crawford made all four of his 3-pointers in the first half, helping Memphis break out to a 47-39 halftime lead it never relinquished.
The Tigers led just 58-55 with 13 minutes remaining, but hit shot after shot down the stretch to slowly put some separation between them and the Golden Eagles.
Memphis was never rattled by the raucous Southern Miss crowd. Johnson, in particular, hit several clutch shots to keep the Tigers in control. He said the hostile environment didn’t faze him.
“Intimidated?” Johnson said laughing. “Only by the man upstairs and my mom. That’s it. Nothing else.”
Southern Miss (18-6, 7-2) has lost two straight following a 10-game winning streak. Dwayne Davis led the Golden Eagles with 25 points on 9 of 14 shooting, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range. Daveon Boardingham added 14 points while Jonathan Mills scored seven points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
Southern Miss outrebounded Memphis 38-28, including 16-6 on the offensive end. But it wasn’t enough to stop the Tigers.
Memphis ended Southern Miss’ 23-game home winning streak, which was the fourth-longest in the nation.
“We just really had no answer for them,” Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall said. ” … We played hard. It was simply that Memphis much better than us tonight.”
Memphis and Southern Miss traded baskets in a physical, emotional first half that featured hot shooting by both teams, three technical fouls and spectacular alley-oops.
The Tigers jumped ahead midway through the half when Crawford hit four 3-pointers in quick succession. His last one gave them a 35-28 advantage. The Tigers shot 19 of 29 (65.5 percent) from the field in the first half, including 7 of 11 (63.6 percent) from 3-point range.
Southern Miss stayed in it because of Davis’ 11 points and eight offensive rebounds that turned into 12 second-chance points.
The Golden Eagles tried to push back into the game during the second half, pulling within three points on three different occasions. But every time, Memphis was there to answer. Once it was a Shaq Goodwin layup, then it was a basket by Adonis Thomas and another time it was a Crawford jumper.
“We played as a team,” Johnson said. “There was no greed on the team and we did what we have to do.”
All of them were open looks, which was the theme for a porous Golden Eagles defense. Southern Miss couldn’t mount another serious rally as Memphis pulled away in the final minutes.
“They just played over the top us with their size and athleticism,” Tyndall said. “It’s the worst defensive performance of the year. Giving up 89 points is very, very disappointing, but Memphis deserves a lot of credit for that.”
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