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Memphis holds off UCF as road faves

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Since Memphis' double-digit loss to Connecticut, Tigers coach Josh Pastner has made a point to try to get his team to focus on their effort on the defensive end.

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That recent prodding paid off Wednesday night when the Tigers needed it most.

After UCF cut Memphis' lead to just a basket midway through the second half, the 22nd-ranked Tigers held UCF to five points over the final 8:52 on their way to a 69-59 victory.

Joe Jackson scored 17 points, and Chris Crawford and Michael Dixon added 12 each for Memphis.

''That was a very good win. That's a good team and on the road - I don't care what anyone says- on the road they're hard,'' Pastner said. ''We won through the defensive end. Heck, the first half they're shooting 60 percent and we're not getting any stops. Isaiah Sykes was literally Magic Johnson in the first half.''

In the end, though, the Tigers (16-4-6-2 American) were able to settle down, holding the Knights to 39 percent shooting from the field for the game and 21 percent from beyond the 3-point line.

''We made 3s and we did a good job defending the 3. That's what it comes down to,'' Pastner said.

The victory extended the Tigers' winning streak to four games. Memphis also extended its conference road winning streak to 16 games.

UCF (9-9, 1-6) was within a basket for most of the second half, but was outscored 13-5 to end the game.

Sykes led UCF with 24 points.

The loss drops the Knights to 1-15 all-time against the Tigers.

''Empty possessions,'' UCF coach Donnie Jones said of his team's play down the stretch. ''Early on they made a run and we battled back and went on a run to get back into the game. ... I called a timeout there during one of those runs to try to gather ourselves. But we had a couple of times there with open possessions and we missed shots.

''You have five or six empty possessions there in a row and it takes the gas out of your team.''

Memphis struggled to get distance from the Knights in the second half, but was able to carve out a 66-58 lead with 3:59 to play on a layup by Jackson

The Tigers got the ball back on a steal by David Pellom and forced UCF into a foul on the ensuing possession. But Shaq Goodwin came up empty at the free throw line.

UCF's Matt Williams was fouled shooting a 3-pointer on the other end, but he was only able to make one of his three free throws.

The Tigers were able to eat up some clock over the next few minutes and continued to force the Knights into turnovers. Jackson hit three free throws in the final 1:09 to secure the win.

Memphis forced 11 turnovers, but turned it over 12 times themselves against the Knights. Memphis came in averaging 13 turnovers a game during conference play.

''That's our defensive mindset, to try to force teams into turnovers,'' Crawford said. ''We did our job on that part, but we definitely got to take care of the ball as a team.''

It was tied at 39 at halftime after solid shooting efforts by both teams.

Memphis had as much as an eight-point lead early before UCF used an 8-0 spurt to take a brief lead late in the half.

Sykes had 16 first-half points to lead the Knights, which outscored the Tigers 22-18 in the paint. UCF held a 10-2 edge in second-chance points.

The Knights entered the night shooting a league-worst 37 percent in conference games, but shot 50 percent in the opening 20 minutes.

Memphis shot 62 percent, but had some collapses in its zone that allowed UCF to get some uncontested layups.

Jackson started slow for the Tigers, but was able to get some easy layups off three steals and finished with 10 first-half points.

Crawford said the Tigers will take wins however they come right now.

''We're trying to turn the corner on the defensive end. That's the main focus for us,'' he said. ''We're trying to set the bar at the defensive end, just get stops and get teams and the field goal percentage we want to keep them at.

''Just keep playing together as a team and trust the process.''

---

Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower

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