MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Markel Crawford hadn’t felt this dominant offensively since his high school days at Memphis Melrose.
“Probably against Oak Hill (in 2012). Just being out there with the mindset that, ‘Nobody out here can guard me,’” Crawford said. “That was sort of my mindset today.”
The 6-5 junior guard scored a career-high 28 points and Dedric Lawson added 19 points, 15 rebounds and a career-high eight assists to help Memphis beat South Carolina 70-54 on Friday night.
Jimario Rivers added 10 points for Memphis (10-4), which shot 60 percent (9 of 15) in the second half in avenging an 86-78 loss at South Carolina (10-3) last season.
But it was Crawford’s offensive efficiency against a Gamecocks squad ranked among the nation’s best defensive teams that was the story for Memphis.
Crawford went 9 of 13 from the field, 10 of 12 from the free-throw line and added seven rebounds. His previous career high was 20 points, which he set in a Dec. 17 win at Oklahoma. South Carolina came into the game ranked third nationally in defensive efficiency.
“We worked on changing his shot (in the offseason) and he’s on balance. That’s something he’s really worked on hard,” Memphis coach Tubby Smith said of Crawford, who had a career average of just 5.6 points before this season. Crawford came into Friday’s game averaging 13.5 points — third-best on the team.
“That’s what he needs to do,” Smith continued. “Combine that ability to shoot the outside shot with taking people off the dribble.”
It was Memphis’ first win this season against a top-100 RPI opponent. The Tigers, coming off a 58-54 home loss to SMU on Tuesday, had been 0-4 against top-100 teams this season.
PJ Dozier had 13 points and Rakym Felder and Justin McKie added 10 apiece to lead the Gamecocks, who shot just 31.6 percent for the game, including 28.1 percent in the second half.
“Memphis just lost to SMU a couple of days and they came out pissed and on edge. Tubby wasn’t having it,” South Carolina head coach Frank Martin said. “We saw that in the way they played tonight. Now, we have to respond in a similar way (following a loss). We tried to play hard tonight. We didn’t play well, but we can’t cry because one loss can become two losses.”
Gamecocks senior guard Sindarius Thornwell didn’t play for a sixth straight game due to suspension for a violation of athletic department policy.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have now dropped three of their last five games after starting the season 8-0.
Memphis: Despite having won at Oklahoma this month, the Tigers earned its first win of the season against a top-100 RPI team Friday. South Carolina came into the game with an RPI of 28, per ESPN.
After trailing by 10 in the first half, South Carolina cut Memphis’ lead to 43-41 on Felder’s 3-pointer with 9:37 left in the game. But Crawford then sparked a 9-0 run to push Memphis’ lead to 52-41, converting a layup and a 3-point play during the run.
The Gamecocks never got closer than nine points the rest of the way.
“(South Carolina athletics director) Ray (Tanner) and I will talk when we get back,” Coach Martin said of Thornwell’s suspension. “It’s something we need to speak about privately and make a decision accordingly.”
MORE ON CRAWFORD
Crawford scored in double figures Friday for the 13th time in 14 games this season. He entered the season having scored in double figures just nine times over his first two playing seasons at Memphis.
Crawford redshirted as a freshman, recovering from an ACL tear he suffered before his senior season of high school.
South Carolina opens SEC play Wednesday night at Georgia. The 9-4 Bulldogs have won four of their last five, including a 96-84 decision at Auburn on Thursday in the teams’ SEC opener.
Memphis returns to American Athletic Conference play Thursday when it hosts Connecticut. The Tigers lost their AAC opener on Tuesday, falling 58-54 to SMU. UConn is 5-7, having dropped two straight to Auburn and Houston.