Memphis guard/forward D.J. Stephens (30) and Northern Iowa forward Chip Rank (4) battle for a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012 in Paradise Island, Bahamas. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Saturday, November 24, 2012 4:15 pm
No. 19 Memphis avoids 0-3 run at Battle 4 Atlantis
By JIM O'CONNELLAP Basketball Writer
No. 19 Memphis arrived in the Bahamas as one of four ranked teams playing in the eight-team Battle 4 Atlantis.
Losses to VCU and Minnesota by a combined 22 points left the Tigers in the seventh-place game on Saturday, against a Northern Iowa team that had taken No. 2 Louisville down to the wire in the opening round.
Chris Crawford and Joe Jackson, two of Memphis' better players who had been struggling, scored 18 and 15 points, respectively, in a 52-47 victory.
"If we were 0-3 nobody would want to be around me," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. "Rocks would have been thrown and maybe it would hit the players. We'd have to look out for snipers after we got off the plane. What's important is we won. We needed some momentum."
Memphis (3-2) was the only ranked team not to reach the semifinals and things didn't look so great late in the first half against the Panthers, who led 26-12 with 4:34 to play.
"We just didn't get some rhythm (in the tournament overall)," Pastner said. "It's a long season. There are going to be some peaks and valleys. This is a good team we played. They'll beat a lot of teams going forward. It's not easy getting back-to-back losses come into a morning game then get down 14 in the first half and come out with a win. I'm really proud of my guys. That's why we play these tournaments. That win is going to help down the line in March."
Jackson, considered one of the better point guards in the country, entered the game with 12 assists and 11 turnovers and was averaging 8.8 points for the season. Pastner only played him 7 minutes in the 78-65 loss to VCU - none in the second half.
Crawford came in averaging 7.3 points and was shooting 31 percent overall and 21 percent on 3s. He was 6 for 10 on Saturday and made 4 of 6 from 3-point range.
"I put Chris at the point and Joe off the ball. I wanted to get Joe going and I wanted to get Chris going," Pastner said. "We're a better team when our guard play is better and it hasn't been good. So I wanted to get some mojo back on the perimeter, and we did."
Crawford, who had 12 rebounds, hit a 3-pointer to start a 10-0 run that closed the first half and Jackson ended the spurt with another 3 to make it 26-22.
The Tigers never really took control in the second half but they grabbed the lead for good with 4:04 left when Crawford scored on a layup to make it 42-41. Jackson's three-point play after a bad turnover by Northern Iowa's Deon Mitchell made it 48-41 with 36 seconds left. Crawford hit two free throws with 13 seconds to go to make it 52-44.
"I've been playing shooting guard all my life at the 2. It's natural for me to slide to the 2. I did it in my high school, that's all I did," Jackson said. "It has been a tough tournament for me. I have to continue to get better. Overall we got the win and that's the important thing.
"Right now it's not about the position I'm playing. I just want to make the team win. I don't care what position I play, as long as I'm on the floor."
Crawford said he also just wants to do whatever he can to help the Tigers win.
"I'm very comfortable playing point guard," he said. "Getting my teammates involved and stepping it up on the defensive end, I just want to do whatever it takes to win."
Mitchell led the Panthers (3-3) with 18 points and five assists, but Northern Iowa shot 31.4 percent (16 of 51), including going 7 of 27 (25.9 percent) from 3-point range.
"In the three games we have played down here, I thought our first 20 minutes was very sharp," Panthers coach Ben Jacobson said. "We moved the ball well and found guys in the right places. We rebounded better in the first two games. The hard part is we didn't have enough to show for it."
The Tigers, who lost 84-75 to Minnesota in the first round, had 15 turnovers against Northern Iowa, many of them unforced against the Panthers' zone.
Northern Iowa lost 51-46 to Louisville in the first round and 66-60 to Stanford in the consolation semifinals.
"I feel like the first few games we weren't flowing with our usual motion," Mitchell said. "This game we slowed it down. We needed a win and wanted it real bad so we just slowed it down and went through our sets."