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Memphis overcomes sloppy start to best Temple

The SportsXchange

PHILADELPHIA -- Memphis Tigers coach Josh Pastner won't take any wins for granted. Even when his No. 24 Tigers took on a Temple Owls squad that was ravaged by injuries and lost four of its last five, there was no feeling that this was a game Memphis could just walk in and take.

Memphis guard Michael Dixon Jr. powered a key second-half stretch as the No. 24 Tigers overcame a scrappy effort from Temple 79-69 in an American Athletic Conference game Saturday.

"I don't care if it's an exhibition team, I don't care if I'm in practice and I've got one team playing against the other, I don't take them for granted because I understand how hard it is," Pastner said.

With his team trailing by four points five minutes out of the halftime break, Dixon started to assert himself after a relatively quiet first half.

His back-to-back 3-pointers put the Tigers up by three, and then his three assists had Memphis ahead, 61-53, with 10 minutes to play. Dixon would finish with 15 points and five assists, part of a 21-assist effort for the Tigers against only 10 turnovers.

"Dixon had a stretch there that really got us going," Pastner said. "I was proud of Mike, he's had a good trip."

The short-handed Owls (5-9, 0-4), with only eight scholarship players dressed, were unable to regain the lead and lost for the fifth time in six games.

Sophomore wing Quenton DeCosey' 3-pointer with five minutes to play cut the lead to six, and one by senior guard Dalton Pepper kept it that way with 2:16 remaining.

But as it was all game, rebounding proved to be Temple' undoing.

After Memphis guard Chris Crawford missed a layup, forward David Pellom cleaned up for a put-back to extend the lead to eight. And when Temple guard Will Cummings missed on the other end, it was Memphis forward Shaq Goodwin who brought down the rebound.

Goodwin had a career-high 23 points and added 11 rebounds to lead the Tigers (12-3, 3-1), who had their way on the glass with an undersized Owl frontcourt.

"Offensive rebounding by the opposition hurt us today," said Temple coach Fran Dunphy, referencing the 16 such rebounds by Memphis. "Goodwin is very aggressive, he had eight offensive rebounds and a couple of stick-backs too that hurt us."

The rebounding advantage was 45-28 in favor of Memphis, who came into play with a plus-2.6 per-game advantage, while Temple was getting out-rebounded by 2.9 rebounds per game before Saturday. Dunphy switched up his lineup, starting sophomore center Devontae Watson with freshman forward Mark Williams hobbled with an ankle injury, but the two would combine for zero rebounds in 13 minutes of play.

Pepper led all scorers with 24 points, as the fourth-leading scorer in the conference broke the 20-point mark for the fifth time this season after never scoring more than 13 points in a game before this season.

"I like how we hung in the game and fought to the end," Pepper said. "I'm just happy with the guys and how they played and fought. We played hard, everybody played hard and did what they could."

Early in the game, it appeared Temple might be able to do the improbable. Pepper's 3-pointer right before the buzzer sent a short-handed Temple into the locker rooms with a 37-36 advantage.

Memphis blitzed Temple right out of the gate, grabbing the first seven available rebounds -- four on the offensive end -- as the Tigers raced out to a 13-4 lead before the first media timeout.

The Owls would settle down, however, using an 8-2 run to get back in the thick of things.

Led by DeCosey, Temple started finding seams in the Memphis defense, breaking down the Tigers with a variety of screens to get to the hoop for some easy buckets.

Pepper's two free throws with 7:41 left in the half gave Temple its first lead, 21-20, and it would stay tight until halftime.

NOTES: Temple dropped to 1-5 in home games at the Liacouras Center, with the first five games decided by single digits. ... Memphis has a 15-game conference road winning streak, 12 of which came as a member of Conference USA. ... Temple has not had a losing record in January since the Owls were 7-8 entering play against Saint Louis on Jan. 20, 2008.

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