Claremore Daily Progress

Sports

March 16, 2013

C-USA MEN'S BB TOURNEY: Memphis topples Tulsa, 86-75 in semifinals

TULSA — After the greatest performance yet in his college career, Chris Crawford's mind wasn't on his own high-scoring outing but instead on his teammate's loss.

Crawford set new career highs with eight 3-pointers and 30 points as No. 20 Memphis beat Tulsa 86-75 Friday night in the Conference USA tournament semifinals, then dedicated it all to teammate D.J. Stephens' late grandmother.

Stephens added 10 points and 10 rebounds after flying out of Tulsa first thing in the morning to attend his grandmother's funeral and then back in the afternoon.

"These guys wanted to win this game for D.J. Stephens,'' coach Josh Pastner said. "They love D.J.''

Crawford had three 3-pointers from the right wing during a 14-4 run that put the top-seeded Tigers (29-4) in control midway through the second half after Tulsa had erased an 11-point deficit to take the lead just after halftime.

Crawford's third 3 during the stretch made it 61-46 with 9:57 to play, and he hit two more during a 10-0 burst later on that prevented the fifth-seeded Golden Hurricane (17-15) from making another comeback.

Voted as Conference USA's Sixth Man of the Year after moving to the bench after the first 10 games of the season, Crawford has put up a new season best in scoring in three straight games and four of the last five. It was the second straight night he set new career highs in points and 3-pointers, after scoring 24 and making six 3s in the quarterfinals against Tulane.

"I just wanted to dedicate all those points ... to D.J.'s grandmother. I want to do that for my teammate,'' said Crawford, who was averaging 8.3 points through the first 24 games of the season, but has 19.6 per game over the last six.

The Tigers, who have a perfect record against C-USA competition for the fourth time in seven years, will face second-seeded Southern Miss in the championship game Saturday. Memphis has won six of the last seven titles and is 17-0 in six appearances as the tournament's top seed.

Crawford, who has made at least five 3-pointers in each of his last three games, went 8 for 10 from beyond the arc and tied the Conference USA tournament record for makes set by Charlotte's Diego Guevara against UAB in 2000.

"Crawford got free far too many times to be as good a shooter as he is,'' Tulsa coach Danny Manning said. "We lost him a little bit too much, and he made us pay. He knocked down shots.''

Senior Scottie Haralson led the Golden Hurricane with 25 points and 12 rebounds in what will be his final game unless Tulsa receives an invitation to play in one of college basketball's minor postseason tournaments.

The Golden Hurricane rallied from an early 23-12 deficit to pull within one by halftime, and James Woodard's basket in the opening minute of the second half provided Tulsa a 35-34 edge.

Stephens had two blocks in the first 3 minutes of the second half, and his first of two rim-rocking, two-handed follow dunks highlighted a 9-0 response that put Memphis ahead for good after Tulsa had taken the lead.

"That guy, he doesn't make energy plays. You know what he makes? Winning energy plays,'' Pastner said. "There's a difference.''

Stephens got up at 6 a.m. for his emotional day, but said he ended up getting a lift from the experience - first from relatives he hadn't seen in years, then from his teammates.

"It wasn't really a funeral, it was more of a home-going ceremony and it was more of a joyous occasion. ... When I left, everybody was just cheerful and it was a different atmosphere than I expected,'' Stephens said. "Then I flew back here and I was feeling all right, but the thing that made me the most excited about the entire day was when I got back, my teammates were happy to see me and everybody was asking was I all right and everyone was welcoming me with smiles and hugs.

"I was just like, `That's crazy.' These guys, they're trying to connect with me on another level like a brother would.''

Crawford picked up where Stephens left off, spurring two more Memphis' runs with his hot 3-point shooting.

"I have tremendous confidence in Chris. I have so much confidence in the guy that when he makes a mistake defensively or he makes a mistake offensively, I'm surprised,'' Pastner said. "I get frustrated because I just expect perfection from him. That's the level that I hold him to.''

 

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