The Tigers looked like a team that welcomed a return to the hardwood Tuesday afternoon, racing out to a 10-0 lead on their way to a 30-point drubbing of Southeast Missouri State (coached by former Arkansas State boss, Dickey Nutt). On a day when former Tiger coach Gene Bartow was honored with a banner denoting his recent election to the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, Memphis supplemented the ceremony’s cheers with a return to the win column.
Tiger senior Doneal Mack followed up his 23-point outing (last Saturday in the loss to UMass) with 19 points, making 7 of 11 shots, including 4 of 8 from beyond the arc. The Tigers were led in the scoring column by Elliot Williams who, after scoring only four points in the first half, finished the game with 20. Three other Tigers reached double figures (Pierre Henderson-Niles, Willie Kemp, and Wesley Witherspoon), the first game this season Memphis has had five such performances.
Mack, for one, attributed the effort to an emphasis on rebounding and toughness in Monday’s practice. “We had to put the UMass game behind us,” said Mack after the game. “We wanted to come out today and capitalize. We had a hard practice yesterday, even though we had a game today at noon. It comes down to toughness. UMass just out-toughed us. We looked at film, and it looked like girls playing out there. Guards have to crash the boards. That’s the main issue. We wanted to be the aggressors; we came out timid against UMass.”
SEMO fell into a zone defense for much of the game, and the Tigers weren’t able to capitalize as they might. Besides Mack, Memphis made only four of 18 shots from long distance. But the Tigers finished well when able to push the ball, Henderson-Niles running the floor like a player who’s lost 60 pounds and Wesley Witherspoon drawing fouls on his way to 15 points off the bench. (He made four of his five free throws, though the Tigers only shot 59 percent for the game.)
As for toughness and effort, the Tigers (now 8-2) outrebounded the Redhawks, 42-28 (after being schooled in this department by UMass, 44-24). “Our practice yesterday was good,” said coach Josh Pastner. “Guys got after each other. It was strictly about us. Today, we looked tired at first, guys calling for subs. Anytime you take the floor after a loss, there’s some rust, some cobwebs. There’s tension . . . you really want to get back on the floor. It was a good game to get out of our systems.”
Pastner didn’t take long to shift his focus beyond a short Christmas holiday and toward the next Tiger game, against IUPUI on December 28th. “Their RPI is probably going to be higher than ours,” he noted. “They beat Indiana State, and Indiana State is going to win their league. I don’t want to hear anything about Tennessee, Syracuse, or our league. Right now, it’s all about IUPUI.”