ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)—Memphis did what it always seems to do this time of the years, win another Conference USA regular championship.
Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford both scored 19 points and the 19th-ranked Tigers claimed their eighth CUSA title with a 76-67 victory over Central Florida on Saturday.
Adonis Thomas added 12 points for the Tigers (25-4, 14-0 CUSA), who gave coach Josh Pastner his 100th career win, all at Memphis.
Keith Clanton had 29 points and six rebounds for UCF (19-10, 8-6). Kasey Wilson added 11 points and Isaiah Sykes had 10 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Memphis, which was coming off a 64-62 defeat against Xavier, their first loss after 18 straight wins. turned up the defensive pressure in the middle of the second half to break open a close game.
“We were probably a little tight after losing a game for the first time in a while,” Pastner said. “But we got some energy off our bench, especially Chris (Crawford), who played at an extremely high level, and that helped us find a way to win.”
UCF was unable to sustain the momentum of an early rush when they led by 10 points after just 6 minutes.
“We had some guys playing more minutes than they were used to and we probably got tired some there in the second half,” UCF Coach Donnie Jones said. “I thought we had some plusses out of this game, but Memphis is a tough, physical team that presents a lot of matchup problems and we couldn’t hang with them.”
Memphis got the first two baskets of the second half to stretch the lead to 38-29 before Clanton ran off nine straight points. The last two came on a two-fisted slam that tied the game at 38 with 15:47 to go.
Crawford stopped the run with a 15-footer and Jackson scored six points as Memphis regained control with a 16-5 run that made it 54-43 with 11:23. Memphis’ lead never went under six points after that.
UCF sliced the deficit to 68-62 when Newell drilled a 3-pointer with 3:37 to play, but the Knights couldn’t handle Memphis’ size and strength inside. Tigers center Shaq Godwin bullied his way past Clanton for layups on three straight possessions and Black had a layup on the next possession to end any hopes of a rally.
“We didn’t have control at all in that first half, but the second half we played a lot better,” Jackson said. “We got all five guys involved. One guy can be stopped, but when you have all five guys attacking and playing good help defense, it’s a lot easier.”
UCF took advantage of a sloppy start by Memphis, taking a 14-4 lead in the first 6 minutes of the game, but the Tigers settled down defensively and eventually gained control.
Crawford started a 13-5 run to end the half with a 3-pointer and Tariq Black finished it with a thunderous dunk. Along the way, the Tigers forced three straight turnovers and ran off 10 consecutive points to take a 34-29 halftime lead.