MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)— Memphis let Southern Mississippi catch up, then relied on its defense to run away from the Golden Eagles.
The No. 19 Tigers used a 31-8 second-half burst to erase Southern Mississippi’s only lead of the game and coasted home with a 74-56 victory Tuesday night.
“We came together on defense, and that’s what brought us out,” said Anthony Rice, who was forced to play point guard when starter Antonio Burks got in foul trouble.
Sean Banks scored 22 points as Memphis (20-4, 11-2 Conference USA) won its 11th straight game. The second-half run helped the Tigers eventually take a 22-point lead.
Southern Mississippi (12-12, 5-8) dropped its fourth game in the last five.
Memphis was trying to avenge a 66-63 loss at Southern Miss earlier in the season, one of only two conference losses for the Tigers.
Rodney Carney added 18 points for Memphis, including 13 in the second half when the Tigers made their march. Burks, saddled with foul trouble in the second half, added 15 points and five assists, while Rice scored 12 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
Southern Mississippi coach James Green singled out Carney’s offensive performance as particularly troubling for his team. Many of Carney’s baskets came on drives through the lane, where he would hang before flipping in 10- to 12-foot shots.
“You probably have to do something illegal to get him out of the air from making baskets,” Green said. “He got down in the paint and got over the top of us to score, and we had no answer for that.”
Jasper Johnson and Charles Gaines led the Golden Eagles with 14 points each, 10 of Johnson’s coming in the first half. Gaines managed only two field goals, but was 10-of-11 from the free throw line. Jarekus Singleton finished with 12 points.
Memphis took an early lead because Southern Mississippi couldn’t hit a shot. The Golden Eagles missed their first 10 from the field, falling behind 14-1. Their first basket didn’t come until Johnson scored inside with 11:18 left in the half.
“We obviously did not get off to a good start, and that won’t give you much of a chance,” Green said.
But Southern Mississippi went on an 11-2 run of its own to cut into the Tigers’ lead.
Memphis, however, eventually led by as many as 10 and held a 31-24 edge at the half.
“We played great defense,” Memphis coach John Calipari said of the first half. “(The Golden Eagles) were playing aggressive. They were playing very active. It was my team not stepping up and being aggressive back. Again, they only had 24 points at halftime. We played terrific defense again.”
A 13-5 run to open the second half gave Southern Mississippi its only lead, 37-36 with 16:30 to go. And about the same time, Memphis lost Burks, its second-leading scorer, with his fourth foul, presenting further trouble.
The Tigers responded with an 18-2 run that stretched to 31-8. During the 12-minute stretch, the Golden Eagles made only two field goals.
“We can pull a game out if we can get the ball down the floor and get into our offense,” Burks said of turning the reins over to Rice. “Regardless, we’re still going to play defense.”
The Memphis defense pressured Southern Mississippi into 16 turnovers and only 35 percent shooting from the field. Meanwhile, the Tigers outrebounded the Golden Eagles 37-30.