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Early burst helps Memphis bury Rutgers

The SportsXchange

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Sometimes, it doesn't take long for one team to establish dominance over another. Tuesday night at the FedExForum, it took only a few minutes. Or maybe just a few seconds.

Sophomore forward Shaq Goodwin won the tip for the Memphis Tigers. Senior guard Geron Johnson grabbed the ball and passed to freshman forward Austin Nichols, who noticed Rutgers' big guys cheating up.

"I was wide open, got a dunk, and that set the tone," said Nichols, who scored 18 points as the No. 24 Tigers ran away from Rutgers in a 101-69 victory.

"It was what it was," Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said. "I told our guys at halftime, it's a lesson. We're being taught a lesson here. You've got to get ready to play."

Memphis (17-5, 7-3 in the American Athletic Conference) made a season-high 12 shots from 3-point range (12-for-19 for 63.2 percent) and overall shot 59 percent (36-for-61), their best shooting percentage this season.

The Scarlet Knights (9-14, 3-7) trailed by as many as 41 points in the second half.

But the game got away from them early. The contest was a little more than two minutes old when a 3-pointer from Johnson started a devastating 27-2 run that put the Tigers up 31-5 with 9:52 to play in the first half.

Memphis led 56-21 at halftime and was shooting 66.7 percent from the field (22-for-33).

For the game, Memphis held a 40-29 edge in rebounds and a 44-28 advantage in points in the paint. The Tigers scored 32 points off 17 Rutgers turnovers.

"They almost shocked us with their physicality," Jordan said.

The Tigers finished with 26 assists on 36 made field goals and their 101 points tied their season high.

"This was what we needed going into Saturday because Saturday is a big day for us," said senior guard Michael Dixon, who scored 15 points off the bench for Memphis. "We've got to come out with a win on Saturday."

Dixon was referring to a visit from No. 23 Gonzaga, but also the presence of the ESPN College GameDay crew. Memphis was coming off an 87-72 loss at SMU last Saturday in which the Tigers showed virtually no post presence on offense or defense.

"We didn't let that loss soak in," Nichols said. "We just forgot about it and moved on."

Noting the assists - it was the eighth time the Tigers had 20 or more assists in a game this season - Memphis coach Josh Pastner said: "We shared the ball."

But in losses, the Tigers have strayed from going through the post first. They returned to that strategy against Rutgers, and it was no coincidence, Pastner said, that they hit their perimeter shots.

"It opens everything up," he said.

Every Tigers starter reached double-digits in scoring, with guard Joe Jackson scoring 16 points with eight assists, Goodwin finishing with 13 points, and guard Chris Crawford scoring 12 points with 11 rebounds and five assists. Johnson also had 12 points and five assists.

Forward-center Kadeem Jack led the Scarlet Knights with 12 points. They shot 41.1 percent (25-for-56).

Rutgers outscored Memphis 48-45 in the second half.

Dixon said the performance the Tigers got from Nichols - he hit 8-of-9 shots from the field - is something they will need more often going forward.

"Austin played well early. He's still learning, even though it's this deep in the season," Dixon said. "We need him to play like that for us to win."

Now, the Tigers' attention turns to Gonzaga.

"A game like that, we can put a stamp on us being a good basketball team. It's a statement game," Johnson said. "We can show the world what we can do."

NOTES: Entering Tuesday's game, Memphis was first in the American Athletic Conference and third in the nation in assists per game at 17.6. The Tigers also rank fourth nationally in steals at 9.6 per game, just behind the AAC's Louisville Cardinals, who are third nationally. ... Rutgers G Jerome Seagears leads the league in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.6. Memphis G Joe Jackson leads the league in steals at 2.0. ... ESPN's College GameDay show will set up camp at FedExForum on Saturday when No. 23 Gonzaga comes to Memphis to play the No. 24 Tigers. The game tips at 9 p.m. ET.

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