MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — No one ever has questioned Memphis' talent. Now the Tigers are showing just how well they have put everything together.
Joe Jackson led five Memphis players in double figures with 19 points and the top-seeded Tigers won their sixth Conference USA tournament championship Saturday by beating Marshall 83-57.
The Tigers (26-8) won their seventh straight game overall while grabbing the league's automatic NCAA tournament berth and the 15th consecutive tournament win on their own court. The Tigers are 31-8 all-time in tournament games played in Memphis.
"We're just clicking now," said Will Barton, who added 18 points and 13 rebounds. "Guys know their roles now. Know what coach wants us to do. We're coming out with a lot of energy and passion, and I think that's the main thing. ... We've always had the elite-level talent."
Jackson also had six assists, Wesley Witherspoon had 11 points and Chris Crawford and Ferrakhon Hall each had 10. Jackson called the win one of the Tigers' best performances even though he still thinks they were better in an 87-67 win at Marshall on Feb. 25.
"We're playing good. Real good," said Jackson, who became the league's first back-to-back tournament MVP. "In the conference, we've just been dominating. So people should notice that. We dominated all the teams. I think we don't get enough credit around the country.
Marshall (21-13) lost in its first conference championship since losing the Southern Conference title game to Chattanooga in 1997. The Thundering Herd had become the first No. 6 seed to reach this game with a triple-overtime win in the quarterfinals.
Now they can only hope their run to the title game with upset wins over Tulsa and Southern Miss earn them an at-large NCAA bid, which would be their first since 1987. DeAndre Kane led Marshall with 16 points. Damier Pitts had 12 and Shaquille Johnson 10.
"We ran into a team that's playing as well as any team in America," Marshall coach Tom Herrion said. "That team might be the most improved team in the country over the last three or four weeks, and they played that way. Obviously, we played uphill on the fourth day and had to play from behind. .When you are playing down from that margin, on the road, in this environment, on their home floor, you exert so much energy."
Josh Pastner became the first Memphis coach to win two tournament championships in his first three seasons, something Gene Bartow, Dana Kirk, Larry Finch, even John Calipari ever managed here. Pastner took a minute to lobby for a better NCAA tournament seed.
"I believe right now there's no doubt in my mind that we deserve a five seed," Pastner said. "That's what I believe. I think we've earned the right to be a five seed. To win 20 of 23 and in the fashion we've won, we deserve to be a five seed."
The Tigers had a big scare when starting forward Tarik Black crashed into the Marshall bench after flipping a loose ball back out onto the court with 14:18 left. He was down on the floor for a couple minutes before walking to the locker room with a trainer holding his right wrist. He returned to the bench with only a bruised forearm but didn't come back in the game.
"I just wanted to make sure he was OK," Barton said. "I knew we had the game pretty much in hand. We didn't need him back today. We needed him for the long run. He's so vital to our team. He takes up a lot of space. He's a presence down there on offense and defense. He's just the big guy who controls the paint."
Memphis didn't need him.
Marshall could only get within 57-44 on a fast-break layup by Kane. Memphis answered with consecutive 3s first by Barton, then his brother, Antonio. Hall dunked to push the lead to 65-44 with 7:17 left. The Tigers pushed that to as much as 26 down the stretch before Pastner subbed out en masse with 1:20 left to a standing ovation.
The Tigers wound up shooting 57.7 percent (26 of 44) from the floor and a sizzling 25 of 27 at the free throw line (92.6 percent). They even managed to outrebound C-USA's top rebounding team 33-30. Marshall shot just 35.5 percent (22 of 62).
Memphis had been dominating in this winning streak, winning by an average of 22.2 points per game. The regular season champ also had an extra day of rest compared to Marshall, which was playing its fourth game in as many days.
Fatigue seemed to catch up with the Thundering Herd as they finished the first half hitting three of their final 15 shots. Memphis had no such problems with a heavy blue home crowd ready to cheer and provide an extra boost of energy whenever needed.
"We played tough, and it was a tough tournament for us," Kane said. "Four games, and we came up short today . They outplayed us today. We'll suck this loss up."