Tigers win C-USA tournament title

A team manager for the University of Memphis suggested to sophomore guard Will Barton that if the Tigers were to win the Conference USA championship game Saturday, he should sport a replica World Wrestling Entertainment heavyweight championship belt.

A team manager for the University of Memphis suggested to sophomore guard Will Barton that if the Tigers were to win the Conference USA championship game Saturday, he should sport a replica World Wrestling Entertainment heavyweight championship belt. After 40 minutes of making seemingly every right pass, scoring on seemingly every possession, and suffocating Marshall into a 36 percent shooting effort, the Tigers captured the C-USA tournament championship, 83-57, for the second straight year.

And when it all ended, there was Barton at mid-court, spinning the centerpiece of his well-earned championship belt that he proudly draped over his shoulder.

"I'm the Rock," said Barton, who scored 18 points and secured 13 points. "I'm the people's champ."

He and the Tigers are also now C-USA's, and they left no room for dispute. The Tigers didn't allow any of their three opponents in the tournament to reach 60 points and won their three games by an average of 25 points.

Memphis shot 59.1 percent for the game, converted 25 of 27 free throws, and collected 17 assists on 26 made baskets.

Winners of 20 of their last 23, the team that was incapable early in the season of closing out opponents has played essentially drama-free basketball in the last several weeks.

"We're just clicking right now," Barton said. "Guys know their roles now and we know what coach wants us to do, coming out with a lot of energy and passing the ball. I think that's the main thing. Like I've always said, we've always had the talent, the elite-level talent.

"We've got our heads on right now. When we've got the right mindset, we can beat anyone in the country."

Getting in the right frame of mind has been paramount for the Tigers, but no individual player has needed a jolt of confidence more than sophomore guard Joe Jackson. Similar to last season, Jackson was benched midseason but was reinstated to the starting lineup last month.

Since then, he's been on a level reminiscent of his high school days at White Station: a serious threat in transition and a fiery floor general.

Jackson made history Saturday, becoming the first player in C-USA history to be named tournament Most Valuable Player two years in a row. He scored 17 points and dished out six assists against Marshall.

"It's a good feeling to get it two years in a row," Jackson said. "I work hard every day, after practice. I come to the gym early. A lot of people don't know about it, and it's paying off. My game's been showing on the court."

Now that Pastner and the Tigers can look ahead to the NCAA Tournament, the third-year coach made a case for his team to be awarded a 5-seed tomorrow during Selection Sunday.

The Tigers have a 5-6 record against the RPI Top 50 and are playing their best basketball of the season right now, he said.

"There's no doubt in my mind that we deserve a 5-seed," Pastner said. "That's what I believe. I think we've earned the right to be a 5-seed. To win 20 of 23, and in the fashion that we've won, we deserve a 5-seed."


Tiger Authority Top Stories