Memphis-Marshall Preview

The Associated Press

Memphis coach Josh Pastner is pleased with his team's lengthy winning streak, but he doesn't want a few lopsided Conference USA victories to cause overconfidence.

Looking back at last month's matchup with Marshall should help the 22nd-ranked Tigers avoid that.

Memphis will try to extend the nation's second-longest winning streak to 16 on Saturday night when it visits the Thundering Herd.

With three of their last four wins coming by margins of 30, 13 and 22, the Tigers (21-3, 10-0) are leaving little doubt that they're the class of the league. They're two games ahead of second-place Southern Mississippi, which they defeated 89-76 on the road last Saturday.

Memphis followed that win by setting season highs in assists (28), fast-break points (27) and shooting percentage (58.5) in Wednesday's 93-71 victory over Central Florida.

"We continue to play at a high level," said Pastner, whose team is undefeated since an 87-78 loss to then-No. 6 Louisville on Dec. 15. "To win 15 straight is not easy. It's not a birthright. It's not a birthright to continue to have 20-win seasons. It's not a birthright to continue to get double-digit victories in conference play.

"Right now, guys are playing well."

Tigers leading scorer Joe Jackson had 21 points and a career high-tying 10 assists Wednesday, but reigning C-USA player of the week Geron Johnson might be playing the best of anyone on the roster. Over the past three games, the junior guard is averaging 21.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 5.7 assists - all nearly double his season averages.

Johnson, though, was held scoreless in 12 foul-plagued minutes of a 73-72 home victory over Marshall (11-14, 4-6) on Jan. 26.

Pastner is expecting another tight game as the Thundering Herd go for their first home win over a ranked team since a 73-66 victory over then-No. 23 Wake Forest on Dec. 17, 1997. Marshall is 10-3 at home this season.

"We go to a tough environment on Saturday," said Pastner, whose team has won its five conference road games by an average of 14.0 points. "They're having one of their color outs. This is going to be their biggest game of the year at Marshall."

The Tigers, whose winning streak trails only Akron's 16-game run, can expect to see plenty of point guard DeAndre Kane, who has averaged 9.0 assists while playing every minute of the last four games. The junior, ranked among the nation's best with 7.3 assists per game, had 10 in a 71-70 victory over Rice on Wednesday.

Kane took a season-low three shots and scored five points - he averages 14.3 - but the Thundering Herd had their third-best shooting performance of the season (51.1 percent). Top scorer Elijah Pittman had 22 points, D.D. Scarver added 17 and they combined to go 13 of 23 from the field.

"It's just not me. I'm out there trying to move the ball to the open person," Kane said. "The offense has been struggling. I just wanted us to attack the zone and I thought that was the best way we could do it."

Kane had a different approach in Memphis last month, hitting 9 of 18 shots and finishing with a team-high 22 points and four assists. He is four points shy of passing Hal Greer for 19th all-time at Marshall with 1,378.

Pittman is averaging 20.0 points in four February games but had nine last month at Memphis - the only time in the past eight games he's been held below 15.

The Tigers have won four straight and 12 of 14 in this series.

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