By JEFF LATZKE
TULSA — When Memphis coach Josh Pastner first presented the idea, Chris Crawford wasn’t immediately sold on moving from the starting lineup to the bench.
With the NCAA tournament right around the corner, he’s showing just how dangerous he can be no matter his role.
Crawford set career-highs with 24 points and six 3-pointers, Adonis Thomas scored 17 points and the 20th-ranked Tigers beat Tulane 81-68 Thursday night in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA tournament.
It was the second straight game and third time in the last four that Crawford put up his new best scoring total of the season. He’s averaging 19.5 points over the last four games, after scoring 8.3 per game in the first 24.
“When he first told me, I was looking at him like he was crazy. I wasn’t feeling it at first,” Crawford said. “But I’m a team guy, so I was willing to sacrifice for my teammates. I’m just trying to do whatever it takes to win.
“We’re an unselfish team. That’s just me being unselfish as a teammate and knowing that I’ve got my guys’ backs.”
The top-seeded Tigers (28-4) took control by scoring the final 14 points of the first half, with Crawford hitting a pair of 3-pointers and then soaring for a right-handed dunk on a fast break to finish it off and make it 44-27. D.J. Stephens also had a two-handed slam and a putback during the big burst.
Crawford made five of his seven 3-point tries in the first half, and eighth-seeded Tulane (19-14) could never get closer than 10 after that.
“Chris has learned that he is an energy guy. He is at his best when he is positive energy,” Pastner said. “He’s not a focus guy because he is so cerebral as a player. He is an energy guy, and when he is positive energy, it is contagious, it radiates, it’s enthusiastic throughout our whole team and it makes his individual play that much better.
“I’m so proud of Chris with his positive energy. That’s why he’s at a high level right now — a very, very high level.”
Josh Davis had 21 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Green Wave, and Jordan Callahan chipped in 18 points. Callahan also tied Michael Christian’s school record, set in 1989-90, with 77 3-pointers on the season.
Memphis, trying to win its seventh Conference USA tournament in eight years, won its 22nd straight game in the series between the two teams.
Tulsa beats E. Carolina 79-72, advances to semi's
Scottie Haralson scored 22 points, James Woodard added 17 and Tulsa has a date with top seeded Memphis in the Conference USA tournament semifinals with a 79-72 win over East Carolina on Thursday night.
Tulsa (17-14) led 14-6 midway through the first half but watched the Pirates use a 24-11 rally to take a 30-25 lead at halftime. It wasn't until Pat Swilling Jr. hit a 3-pointer with 2:35 to go before Tulsa was able to regain the lead at 66-65. The Golden Hurricane never trailed again.
Shaquille Harrison had 12 points and D'Andre Wright scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds off the bench for Tulsa.
Maurice Kemp led East Carolina (18-12) with 24 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.
Tulsa will play No. 1 Memphis on Friday for a chance to play in the C-USA title game Saturday. The Golden Hurricane lost to Memphis 94-64 in their only matchup of the season Feb. 2.
UTEP beats Houston 80-69 in Conference USA
Julian Washburn led six UTEP players in double figures with 20 points and the Miners defeated Houston 80-69 on Thursday in the Conference USA tournament quarterfinals.
UTEP (18-13), the No. 3 seed, will play second-seeded Southern Mississippi, an 81-66 winner over UAB, in Friday's first semifinal.
Jacques Streeter had 13 points and 12 assists for the Miners. Konner Tucker scored 12 points, McKenzie Moore scored 11 — all in the second half — and Cedrick Lang and C.J. Cooper had 10 points apiece.
The Cougars (19-12) only led once, at 16-15, but stayed close until UTEP took a 60-50 lead with 7 minutes to play.
TaShawn Thomas led Houston with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Danuel House scored 12 and J.J. Thompson scored 11 for the sixth-seeded Cougars, who beat Rice in Wednesday's first round.
Southern Mississippi defeats UAB 81-66
Neil Watson scored 23 points and Dwayne Davis scored 20 to lead second-seeded Southern Mississippi to an 81-66 victory over UAB on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA tournament.
The Golden Eagles (24-8) will play UTEP in Friday's semifinals. The Miners defeated Houston 80-69.
Watson and Davis had five assists apiece, and both went 7 for 11 from the field with Davis making four 3-pointers and Watson three. Davis was coming off of back-to-back 30-point games against Marshall and UCF.
Southern Miss shot 53 percent, led 40-26 at halftime and never saw its second-half lead dip below seven points.
Rod Rucker scored 20 points to lead the Blazers (16-17), the No. 7 seed. Preston Purifoy added 10 points. UAB beat SMU 53-52 in the first round on Wednesday.