Memphis escapes the Colonials

Coach Josh Pastner mentioned to his players that they have to play with positive energy also known as “positive paws” to get out of the first round against the George Washington Colonials from the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Entering the game against George Washington (24-9, 11-5 A-10), Pastner had a 1-3 NCAA tournament record on his resume, well not anymore. The Tigers (24-9,12-6 AAC) fought hard from the beginning to the end and was able to hold off the Colonials to get the 71-66 victory.

“I like being around positive paws. I don’t want any negative nellies,” Pastner said after his team’s win in the first round of this year’s NCAA tournament. “Life is too short to be negative and worried about this and that.”

In the first half, senior guard Chris Crawford got things going for Memphis on the offensive end of the basketball. Crawford connected on three big shots from beyond the arc as Memphis led 17-12 at the 12:19 mark.

The Tigers would push their lead up to 10 (26-16) after senior guard Michael Dixon Jr. connected on a three-point play. Memphis started the game shooting 50 percent (9-of-18) from the field, but ended the half shooting 15.4 percent (2-of-13).

The Tigers wouldn’t score a point again until the 1:47 mark when Dixon nailed a three from the wing.

While the Tigers were struggling to find their shooting touch after a solid start, George Washington would go on a 10-5 run to cut the Tigers lead to five (31-26) before halftime.

Sophomore forward Kevin Larsen had 12 points, two rebounds, and one block in the first half. His teammate Isaiah Armwood added six points.

As for the Tigers, Crawford led the way for the team in scoring with nine. Senior guard Joe Jackson had seven points. In the first half, Memphis had reached their season average of 16.2 attempts from beyond the arc. The Tigers went 5-of-17 (29.4 percent) from deep.

In the second half, the Tigers would once again hold a double-digit lead (51-41) with 12:02 left in the game after freshman forward Austin Nichols capitalized on two shots from the line. The Colonials would quickly chop Memphis lead to six with two shots made by Joe McDonald from the line and a made layup by Larsen.

On Memphis next two possessions, Goodwin made a layup with the assist by Dixon and Dixon would knock down the jump shot to push their lead back up to 10 (55-45).

George Washington would not surrender as they fought back to cut the Tigers lead to four with a three-pointer made by senior guard Maurice Creek, who was quiet for the entire game. He finished the night with nine points on 2-of-13 (15.4 percent) shooting from the field.

Thanks in part to Armwood and Larsen, the Colonials had a fighting chance to steal the game from Memphis. They combined to score 37 of their team’s 66 points. Patricio Garino added 10 points to his stats sheet.

Dixon picked up his fourth foul at the 7:18 mark and was on the bench for the next five minutes. With the clock closing in on two minutes, Pastner called Dixon’s number to help his teammates finish the Colonials off.

After the timeout, Dixon entered the game and quickly put three points on the board for Memphis. Memphis held a 67-62 lead with 2:08 to go.

George Washington quickly responded with two key shots made by Creek from the free throw line to cut Memphis lead to three. Then McDonald converted on the driving layup to close the gap to one.

Dixon would put the game away with four made buckets from the line to send Memphis into the second round for the second consecutive season under coach Pastner.

Dixon finished as Memphis leading scorer with 19. Jackson pitched in 15 points to go along five rebounds and six assists.

“This is what the NCAA tournament is all about. Every game is going to be a challenge because every team is fighting for their life so, we were trying to come out with the victory no matter what,” Jackson said.

Memphis now awaits the winner of Virginia/Coastal Carolina.