During his prime, Jack Nicklaus was famously described as playing a game with which the rest of the golf world was unfamiliar. Tonight at FedExForum — and in front of a national TV audience — the Georgetown Hoyas played a brand of basketball with which the Memphis Tigers haven’t been acquainted in some time. If there are indeed eight teams in the country better than Georgetown, be glad none of them are on the remainder of the U of M schedule.
A young man by the name of Henry Sims dished out five assists for Georgetown in 17 minutes of play, more than any Tiger on the floor (or any other Hoya, for that matter). Sims is Georgetown’s backup center.
John Thompson has built a team with experience, size, and depth, three areas the Tigers must address if they are to compete beyond the confines of Conference USA. And Josh Pastner recognizes it. “Georgetown executed. When a team shoots 57 percent, it’s hard to beat them,” said Pastner after the game. “We have to stay together, no finger-pointing. There are going to be peaks and valleys. We have to be patient. This is normal. As we get into January, we have to see some signs. This was an experienced team, and the way to beat experienced teams is by hanging your hat on defense. I thought we had opportunities, but we just kept missing short shots, a lot of layups.”
The Tigers received an energy boost when junior Wesley Witherspoon not only suited up, but started the game, merely two weeks after knee surgery that was originally believed to sideline him more than a month. Witherspoon started in place of freshman Tarik Black, who has experienced flu-like symptoms and required an I.V. at halftime. (Black managed to hit five of six shots in just nine minutes on the floor.) Despite having practiced well for two days, Witherspoon’s play was rocky at best: one of five from the field with three rebounds and three turnovers in 19 minutes.
Hoya swingman Austin Freeman — the preseason pick for Big East Player of the Year — scored a game-high 24 points on 9 of 12 shooting. As a measure of Freeman’s total impact, consider the Tiger assigned to guard him for much of the game — Charles Carmouche — went scoreless in 21 minutes on the floor. Fellow senior Chris Wright added 19 points for Georgetown while senior forward Julian Vaughn scored 15 and grabbed 10 rebounds. What was a four-point Hoya lead at the half became a 13-point cushion less than seven minutes into the second half.
“This is my last year, and I do not want to lose, ever,” said Tiger senior Will Coleman after the game. “You could tell who was the veteran team. It’s nothing against my guys; they do what they can to grind it out. But they stay sound, poised.” Coleman scored 12 points and pulled down six rebounds, and offered direction for his teammates as the season moved toward the new year.
“You can’t get razzled,” he said. “You can’t get your feathers flustered. You gotta make sure you keep your head, and don’t get frustrated. Don’t be lazy. Don’t go home and sit on the couch [for the holidays.] I’m pretty sure everyone here was ‘the man’ in high school, so they shouldn’t have much trouble finding a gym.”
Will Barton led the Tigers in scoring with 18 points (seven for 17) and rebounds with seven. Point guard Joe Jackson had an especially tough night against Georgetown’s veteran guards, missing seven of eight shots and turning the ball over four times.
“I’m disappointed,” said Pastner, “because in the preseason I thought we had the chance to be a tremendous team shooting the ball. There’s a lot of basketball to be played, though. We gotta stay upbeat.”
The 16th-ranked Tigers will now get a three-day break for the holidays and a full week before their next game (against Lipscomb at FEF on December 30th). “Losing’s the worst,” said Pastner. “It should stink to them. I don’t think anyone will take a loss harder than the head coach, but I want it to sink in. I don’t want them to get used to losing. They should hurt, because I know I’m miserable.”
• Memphis and Georgetown have developed a pretty decent cross-regional rivalry in recent years. This will be the third time in the last four seasons the Tigers and Hoyas have faced each other while ranked in the Top 20. On December 22, 2007, the 2nd-ranked Tigers beat the 5th-ranked Hoyas at FedExForum, 85-71. On December 13, 2008, the 17th-ranked Tigers traveled to Georgetown and lost in overtime, 79-71, to the 19th-ranked Hoyas. Memphis enters tonight’s game ranked 16th while Georgetown is number 9.
• The first time these programs met came during the 1983 NCAA tournament at Louisville, of all places. Each team sported an All-America sophomore then, Keith Lee leading Memphis while Patrick Ewing was bending rims for the Hoyas. On March 20, 1983 — in the second round of the Big Dance — Memphis (ranked 17th in the country) beat Georgetown (20th), 66-57. Lee won the battle of big men, too, with 28 points and 15 rebounds (compared with Ewing’s 24 and 9). The Tigers were ousted in their next game five days later by the Phi Slamma Jamma Cougars of Houston. The ’83 tournament was the only time in four years Ewing and Georgetown failed to reach the NCAA championship game.
• Overall, Georgetown holds a 7-2 lead in the series. Memphis has an alltime record of 127-139 against current members of the Big East. (This record includes marks of 31-36 against Cincinnati and 34-51 against Louisville.)
• Tonight’s game will be the fourth for Memphis against “power conference” teams. The Tigers have beaten Miami and LSU, and lost to Kansas. Tennessee (January 5th) is the only such team left on the schedule.
• The Hoyas enter the game with a record of 10-1, their only loss coming on December 9th at Temple. They have two wins over power-conference teams (North Carolina State, Missouri) and one win over a Conference USA squad (Tulane). They average just over 80 points per game, which ranks 18th in the country.
• Senior guard Austin Freeman leads the Hoyas in scoring with 18.5 ppg and has shot 55 percent from the field through 11 games. He topped 30 points in back-to-back games in late November, but hasn’t reached 15 in Georgetown’s last four games. Junior guard Jason Clark averages 14.2 points and Julian Vaughn leads the Hoyas in rebounding with an average of 6.7 per game. Chris Wright is the table-setter with an average of 6.7 assists per game.
• It’s early to be considering RPI rankings, but Georgetown is currently tops in the country (ahead of Kansas, Florida, Duke, and West Virginia). Memphis ranks 35th, behind C-USA rivals Southern Miss (25th) and UCF (31st).
Joe Jackson scored 23 points and Will Coleman added 15 points with 9 rebounds to lead the 16th-ranked Tigers over a game Islanders team tonight at FedExForum. Memphis trailed 29-28 at halftime, but managed to earn its ninth win of the season thanks largely to free-throw shooting. The Tigers drained 21 of 27 from the stripe (Jackson was 9 for 10), while the Islanders only took 11 free throws (they made 6).
Charles Carmouche scored 12 points for Memphis and Chris Crawford picked up five assists and three steals. The Islanders were led by Hollis Hill off the bench with 16 points.
A holiday commitment kept me from FEF tonight, but I'll be on the scene Thursday when 9th-ranked Georgetown pays a visit.
I’ve got Angel Garcia on my mind. After a few days of pondering his hasty departure from the U of M program (to play professionally in Spain), I find Garcia’s tale more and more unsavory, if not atypical in the modern world of college basketball.
The word commitment has grown quaint when it comes to sports of any kind, but it seems especially so — like a set-shot from the corner — in college hoops. In the age of “one-and-done” wonders (the Tigers have suited up Dajuan Wagner, Shawne Williams, Derrick Rose, and Tyreke Evans), the notion of a college basketball star staying in school even two seasons is a blurred dream of yesteryear. If Will Barton plays for Memphis as a sophomore, it will be the result of (A) his performance being so disappointing that his NBA draft stock plummets or (B) an NBA lockout forces “one-and-doners” like Barton to consider Plan B on their way to a first pro contract.
But this is where Garcia’s story diverges from some of his predecessors in the U of M program. Garcia was not a star. At best, he would become a complementary player. But this looked like the winter when Garcia might indeed maximize his size and long-range shooting to complement Wesley Witherspoon and the freshman stars surrounding him. Role players help win basketball games. Garcia had his chance, finally as a junior, to fill a role for coach Josh Pastner.
And consider the role the University of Memphis filled for Garcia before the 2010-11 campaign tipped off. Recruited by John Calipari, Garcia was academically ineligible as a freshman, but remained with the program — and, not incidentally, enrolled in school, on scholarship. A knee injury cost him all but the last few games of his sophomore season, but Garcia showed glimpses of what he could bring Pastner this season, particularly the unusual combination of height and long-range shooting touch. A poor man’s Dirk Nowitzki, we might have considered Garcia.
But then eight games into his junior season, Garcia decided to hop the Atlantic and play professionally. Combined with injuries to Witherspoon and D.J. Stephens, Garcia’s absence left Pastner with what amounted to a seven-man rotation last Thursday night against Austin Peay. Freshman forward Hippolyte Tsafack had his redshirt status removed, an effort to build on what was suddenly a small team. (The Tigers gave up 51 rebounds to the Governors.)
I don’t have a problem so much with a young man going where he might earn a living and provide for his family. Money screams, particularly to those who haven’t had a lot to manage in their bank account. But I find the timing and haste of Garcia’s departure unseemly. After two years of the University of Memphis serving as a free training ground for a young man unable — on two counts — to perform the duties for which he was awarded a scholarship worth thousands of dollars, he departs a program that could finally rely on the strengths for which he was recruited in the first place. The public gratitude Garcia expressed upon announcing his decision is worth a Derrick Rose SAT score. No more.
College basketball coaches recruit based on need. Pastner factored in a healthy Angel Garcia as he built his 2010-11 team. The coach would be myopic to consider this year’s roster a forecast for the 2011-12 season, but he should at least be able to count on his full allotment of scholarship players for one season. Garcia blew that notion to bits.
Angel Garcia’s legacy as a Tiger? Unlike some of the one-and-done stars that sold tickets by themselves, Garcia took much more from the U of M program than he gave. I honestly wish him well and hope his pro career blossoms, whatever paths he follows. But as for his time here in Memphis, one word sticks in my head: waste.
Have nine days in the history of Memphis Tiger basketball ever felt longer? Tiger Nation was still grieving the dispiriting loss to Kansas in New York City on December 7th when coach Josh Pastner announced that junior forward Wesley Witherspoon — the team's top scorer — would undergo knee surgery and be out of the lineup for five weeks. A day later, junior forward Angel Garcia announced he was leaving the team to play professionally in Spain. That news simmered a day or two before sophomore forward D.J. Stephens was sidelined with a groin injury. What was a 10-man rotation for one game became a 7-man unit the next (tonight), with a redshirt removed from freshman forward Hippolyte Tsafack.
A return to the floor would surely be salve for the wound (if the wound had, in fact, stopped bleeding). Enter the Austin Peay Governors.
After falling behind 24-14, the Govs went on an astounding 29-4 run that bridged halftime and gave the visitors a 15-point lead not quite seven minutes into the second half. After scoring only four points in the first half, Austin Peay’s top scorer, Tyshawn Edmondson scored 12 in the first eight minutes of the second half.
The Tigers responded with a 19-4 run of their own, sparked by the long-distance marksmanship of Charles Carmouche (three of five from beyond the arc) and Chris Crawford (five of eight, including two in overtime).
Emondson drained a three-pointer to give Austin Peay a 55-53 lead with a minute to play. After each team hit one of two free throws, freshman guard Antonio Barton hit a runner from ten feet to tie the score with 12 seconds left. “Coach [Jack] Murphy had me working on that shot all week in practice,” said Barton in a relatively quiet Tiger locker room after the game. “It was kind of funny, because he said you never know when that shot will come in handy. So I felt comfortable in that situation.” Barton finished the game with nine points.
After a last-second drive by Edmondson was thwarted, the Tigers gained control in the extra period. Crawford hit a pair of three-pointers and was followed by a Will Barton trey to give Memphis a 65-62 lead with 1:45 to play. Will Coleman scored inside to make it 67-62, then Joe Jackson and Will Barton each split a pair of free throws in the final minute to provide the final margin of victory. A final attempt by the Governors — on a baseline inbounds play — went awry from the right corner as the buzzer sounded.
“We just kept our heads up, stayed focus,” said Crawford, who finished with 18 points to lead the Tigers. “I’m never shy about taking the long ball.”
The Tigers improved to 8-1 on the season, despite giving up 74 shots to the Governors (Memphis took 56), the result of Austin Peay grabbing 22 offensive rebounds and outscoring the Tigers 19-5 on second-chance points. Memphis committed 24 turnovers, compared with 20 by the Governors. This was ugly basketball.
“You gotta fight through it all,” said Crawford. “Without D.J. and Wesley, we just had to grind it out.”
“That was scary,” said Coleman. “They killed us on the boards. We stayed in there the whole 45 minutes, and grinded it out.”
Having lost a trio of players who averaged a combined 52 minutes, Pastner was forced to play a rotation of essentially seven players (Tsafack and Drew Barham combined for 17 minutes). Five Tigers played at least 30 minutes, with Will Barton logging a team-high 41.
“There’s no such thing as a bad win,” said Pastner. “The last 17 minutes of the game, we had one turnover. Prior to that, we had 23. This happens. Look at college basketball. Tennessee took a loss against Oakland. For us to find a way to win . . . I’m 33, but my body feels like 88. It wears on you.”
Pastner acknowledged an adjustment forced by the smaller roster. “When we were down 15 in the second half, we went small. Instead of going with two bigs, we put Will Barton at the four. That gave us some momentum, and we made a run from there.”
Carmouche finished with a season-high 16 points and led the Tigers with seven rebounds. Coleman blocked four shots in 22 minutes of playing time and Jackson made three steals in 21 minutes.
Edmondson led Austin Peay (now 6-6) with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
The 18th-ranked Tigers return to action Monday night when they host Texas A & M-Corpus Christi.
Tiger football coach Larry Porter released a statement related to the arrest of Cannon Smith early this morning (on charges of public intoxication and disorderly conduct):
“We are aware of the incident that occurred involving Cannon Smith. The matter currently is under investigation, and we are in the process of gathering all of the facts before making any decisions or public statements.”
Smith is a quarterback for the Tigers and the son of FedEx founder Fred Smith. A sophomore, Smith started two games and played in seven for the 2010 Tigers. He passed for 246 yards and a touchdown.
Money talks, they say. In Angel Garcia's case, the chatter was loud enough for him to end his college career not quite midway through his first healthy season.
Tiger coach Josh Pastner announced Sunday that Garcia is departing the team after the fall semester to play professionally in Spain. Garcia has been with the team since the 2008-09 season, though didn't reach the floor until late in the 2009-10 campaign after recovering from knee surgery. He was averaging 6.1 points per game this season for the 7-1 Tigers. Garcia brought value both in terms of his size and his long-range shooting ability.
The loss of Garcia compounds the earlier loss (for at least five weeks) of junior Wesley Witherspoon, who underwent surgery to repair a torn knee ligament. Eight players remain in what has been a 10-man rotation for Pastner, with five of them freshmen, and six of them in their first year with the Tiger program. Senior Will Coleman is the only active player with significant playing time for the U of M.
Freshman forward Hippolyte Tsafack will have his redshirt removed and be on the active roster when Memphis hosts Austin Peay Thursday night at FedExForum.
In baseball, single numbers tend to be reserved for the brightest of stars. Babe Ruth wore number 3. Mickey Mantle’s 7 was the favorite digit of an entire generation of Baby Boomers. Johnny Bench was famously 5. Ozzie Smith was the last St. Louis Cardinal to wear number 1, and Stan Musial’s 6 is the code for greatness in Cardinal Nation. (The Cardinals’ top three players today wear numbers 4, 5, and 7.)
Somehow, though, the single digits haven’t had the same impact on basketball. Aside from Bill Russell and Julius Erving (both number 6), the game’s icons tend to be more scattered when it comes to their jersey numbers: 23 (Jordan), 32 (Magic), 33 (Bird), 44 (West). Kobe Bryant even switched his number from 8 to 24.
Then along came the Memphis Tigers’ 2010 freshman class: Joe Jackson (1), Antonio Barton (2), Chris Crawford (3), and Will Barton (5). Add junior transfer Charles Carmouche (4) to the mix, and Memphis could send an entire team of one-digit wonders to the floor.
Eight jerseys have been retired by the Tigers, but all of them include two digits. (The lowest number is Forest Arnold’s 13, the highest John Gunn’s 44.) The most memorable single-digit players of recent history are Antonio Burks (1), Robert Dozier (2), Roburt Sallie (3), Chris Massie (4), and Antonio Anderson (5).
Digits greater than 5 cannot be used by college players (makes it easier for officials to signal fouls). So there are only five single-digit jerseys to look for on a given roster. (Six if you count Will Coleman’s 0.) Should be fun to track the rise of five newcomers with the “baseball numbers” for this year’s Tiger squad. Might one of them finally make it to the rafters?
A few thoughts on tonight’s game in New York:
• Going in, I was convinced the Tigers would be overmatched by the Kansas big men: Marcus and Markieff Morris and Thomas Robinson. That trio combined for 40 points and 24 rebounds. Tarik Black, Will Coleman, and Angel Garcia — the closest such trio Memphis can offer — scored 14 points and pulled down nine rebounds. Garcia and Black each picked up two early fouls, and that impacted their stat line, but you can’t ignore the way the Morris twins and Robinson had their way inside, particularly in the second half. If Josh Pastner has a concern (looking toward March, beyond C-USA play), it’s the lack of muscle on this team.
• When the season started, if you asked me to name a Tiger enigma, it would have been Coleman. A “young senior” when it comes to his basketball experience, Coleman is learning the game at the NCAA’s highest level. And it shows with his inconsistency.
But after tonight, D.J. Stephens belongs in the enigmatic circle with Coleman. Three nights ago, Stephens was the best player on the floor against Western Kentucky (13 points, 11 rebounds). Tonight: nary a point or rebound, and less than 10 minutes of playing time. He’s undersized (as ESPN’s Jay Bilas pointed out), but can jump through the roof. He’s an “energy guy” who can make a difference in tight games, but lacks the skills to stay on the floor against the toughest Tiger foes. After what I saw Saturday night, I thought Stephens might surprise some viewers in Madison Square Garden. Thought he’d bring down at least one did-you-see-that dunk. He was a nonfactor.
• The Tigers won’t survive elite competition with Wesley Witherspoon shooting three for 11. The talented freshmen surrounding him means Witherspoon doesn’t have to force shots. But the junior — a preseason all-conference pick, remember — has to place himself in the flow of the offense. And he has to get to the free-throw line. Witherspoon entered tonight’s game having shot an average of almost eight free throws per game, and at an 83-percent clip. He didn’t take a foul shot against Kansas.
• The Tiger I’ve most enjoyed watching this season is freshman point guard Joe Jackson. The first impression I had upon seeing him on a college floor was that he’s small. But he’s quick enough, and understands basketball’s angles so well that his size hasn’t been a factor in the impact he makes offensively. Tonight, matched up with the Jayhawks’ 6’3” Tyshawn Taylor . . . Jackson looked small. Missed all four field-goal attempts and picked up but one assist.
• Consider the company Memphis kept tonight for the Jimmy V Classic. The coaches for Kansas, Syracuse, and Michigan State have taken their teams to a combined 10 Final Fours and have each won a national championship. Josh Pastner has yet to coach an NCAA tournament game. Pastner’s predecessor spoke often of coaching a “national program” at the U of M. It appears the status holds.
• My earliest college-basketball memory is North Carolina’s Michael Jordan draining a short jumper to beat Georgetown for the 1982 national championship. My earliest memory of a college-basketball coach is North Carolina State’s Jim Valvano running frantically around the court in Albuquerque, searching for someone to hug after his Wolfpack won the 1983 title. That’s a great feeling, one I’ve enjoyed on occasion: happiness so powerful you have to hug someone. It’s nice to see ESPN still broadcasting Valvano’s legacy 17 years after his death. The next time a coach acts like basketball is more important than a good hug, think of Jimmy V.
The Tigers travel to New York Tuesday night to face the fourth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks. In 90 years of basketball, the U of M has beaten a top-five team 13 times. Here's the handsome list:
February 2, 1957: Tigers 81, #3 Louisville 78
January 20, 1964: Tigers 83, #2 Loyola-Chicago 65
February 2, 1972: Tigers 77, #3 Louisville 69
March 2, 1972: Tigers 80, #2 Louisville 65
March 24, 1973: Tigers 98, #4 Providence 85 (Final Four)
March 23, 1985: Tigers 63, #4 Oklahoma 61 (NCAA tournament)
January 4, 1986: Tigers 83, #5 Kansas 80 (OT)
February 8, 1992: Tigers 92, #5 Arkansas 88
February 6, 1993: Tigers 68, #4 Cincinnati 66
November 28, 1996: Tigers 73, #4 Michigan 72
February 19, 2003: Tigers 80, #4 Louisville 73
December 22, 2007: Tigers 85, #5 Georgetown 71
April 5, 2008: Tigers 78, #3 UCLA 63 (Final Four)
Over the course of his first 39 games as a Memphis Tiger, D.J. Stephens averaged 8.2 minutes per game, with 1.8 points and 2.0 rebounds. He’s been “an energy guy” for Josh Pastner’s first two teams.
Until tonight. The sophomore with hops that would do Clyde Drexler proud played 29 minutes and reached new career highs in both points (13) and rebounds (11). Stephens was integral in a game that, in artistic terms, was more Pollock than Pissarro. The Tigers and Hilltoppers combined for 50 field goals, 46 fouls, and 41 turnovers. The 16-point margin was due to Western Kentucky shooting merely 31 percent for the game (missing 14 of 18 three-point attempts). In a game this ugly, “the energy guy” was a beautiful sight.
“The reason [Stephens] started was because another guy was late to a film session,” said Pastner with a smile following the game. “He made the most of it. When he came out of high school, he was being recruited by NAIA and Division III schools; prep schools didn’t even want him. It just goes to show you that recruiting rankings don’t mean everything. You can’t open a person’s chest and see the heart pounding, and see the fortitude. It’s about character. D.J. is a high-character student-athlete.”
Despite being outrebounded 25-18, the Tigers led by 16 at halftime, thanks to 16 WKU turnovers. A 10-2 run by the Hilltoppers helped close the Tiger lead to eight with 13 minutes left to play, but the Tigers answered late, often with put-back baskets from Stephens, who found seams in Western Kentucky’s zone defense that allowed him to hit the glass a bit higher than most other men on the court.
“I just gave a lot of effort,” said Stephens. “I guess Coach saw that. I tried to grab as many rebounds as I could. If I had the open shot, I took it. And if I had an open dunk, I dunked everything. Certain parts of the zone will be open. I try to anticipate where the ball’s going to go and get in those gaps.”
Freshman center Tarik Black scored 11 points and grabbed five rebounds for Memphis. Fellow freshman Joe Jackson added 15 points and dished out six assists. Senior center Will Coleman had a remarkable stat line, one that spells out the enigma he’s becoming for this team: six minutes, seven points, three rebounds, three fouls. A combined eight rebounds from Black and Coleman will have Pastner sweating as he prepares the team for fourth-ranked Kansas Tuesday night in New York City.
“Coach [Bill] Self is a Hall of Famer,” said Pastner when asked about the Tigers’ biggest game of the season to date. “They’ve got big-time players. But this is a long season. The Kansas game isn’t any bigger than this game today; it’s just another game. Our preparation will remain the same. We’re 7-0, and I told the guys, don’t take that for granted. It’s not easy to do.”
Another star freshman, Will Barton, made his first start as a Tiger, but made only four of 11 field-goal attempts and was limited to 11 points. The Tigers hit only four of 13 from three-point range, a number that will have to improve with the mighty Jayhawks looming.
Just another game Tuesday night, in Madison Square Garden? Don’t tell Tarik Black. “I love lights,” he said with a smile. “Going up to New York, there are gonna be a lot of lights.”
LAST WEEK: 4-2
REGULAR SEASON: 67-29 (.698)
SMU (7-5) at UCF (9-3), Orlando, 11 a.m. (ESPN/ESPN2)
I learned a few things this fall in picking 96 Conference USA football games. Primarily, I learned the league is about as predictable as a baby's mood. After breezing through the season's first four weeks (34-6), I went a pedestrian 33-23 over the last nine. I had a losing record three weeks out of four starting with Week 7 before regaining a degree of respectability over the season's final three weeks (13-5).
I learned that I know nothing about East Carolina football (though they surely have the worst defense east of the Bluff City). Over the season's last eight weeks, I missed the ECU game five times (two Pirate wins and three defeats). And I wasn't much better picking the UTEP Miners, missing four consecutive weeks (three of them Miner losses . . . I wanted to believe).
As for the home team, I was a cool 10-2 picking Tiger games. Which places me only two misses behind predicted sunrise over the last three months. (Missed their win over Middle Tennessee and yes, I picked Memphis to beat Tulsa, a game they lost by merely 41 points.)
As for tomorrow's C-USA title tilt in Florida, UCF has hosted this game twice before, so Knight coach George O'Leary should have his team focused properly. The Knights have won seven of eight (though their only loss since September came at home to Southern Miss, on November 13th). SMU has won two straight games on three occasions this season, but a win tomorrow would be the Mustangs' first three-game streak. UCF and SMU faced six common opponents this season and combined to win 11 of the 12 games (SMU lost to Houston). My performance in picking these teams' games? I was 9-3 with the Knights, 7-5 with the Mustangs.
UCF has the top defense in C-USA and is playing at home. And I love the way their freshman quarterback, Jeff Godfrey, played in the Liberty Bowl last weekend.
The pick: UCF 27, SMU 20
“Our guys have to wake up and realize it’s a privilege to be on the floor. Not a right.” Livid would be a fair description of Josh Pastner’s mood shortly after his Tigers won the first overtime game of his young career tonight. Memphis reached overtime only because Arkansas State’s Daniel Bryant missed the second of two free throws with 34 seconds to play. After breezing to a 23-5 lead eight minutes into the game, the Tigers played like a team with Kansas on their minds.
“I knew this was a sense-of-urgency game,” said Pastner. "We can’t afford slip-ups. In high school, in AAU ball, you can show up and not play defense. But not here.”
Facing a Red Wolves team that had lost five of its first six games, the Tigers played down a level or two. They turned the ball over 11 times in the first half alone, with no Memphis player making as many as three field goals over the game’s first 20 minutes.
An 11-point halftime lead was shaved to six just two minutes into the second half. As one reflection of the Tiger attack, ASU was called for only two fouls in the first 15 minutes of the second half. Long-range jump shots weren’t falling for shooters who are capable of making them (Will Barton missed six three-point attempts, while Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford combined to go two for eight from beyond the stripe.)
Count Jackson among those Pastner saw as playing as though he had a “right” to be in uniform. The star freshman from White Station High School was on the bench for the last two minutes of regulation and the first 90 seconds of overtime.
“This is a lesson learned,” said Jackson. “It will open our eyes; any team can come in here and beat us. I noticed it in shootaround today. Guys were taking it easy, not focused.
“When we went into overtime, I just wanted to win. I didn’t care if I was out there or not. You’ve got to take whatever comes to you. I’m hard on myself, and I know when I’m not playing up to my level. A couple of defensive possessions, a guy scored on me.”
Jackson returned to the floor with the Tigers down 69-65 with 3:30 to play in overtime. After a Wesley Witherspoon layup through traffic, Jackson stole the ball and converted his own layup to tie the game. He later converted a three-point play that gave the Tigers a five-point lead that sealed the win.
“If I get the ball in my hands,” said Jackson, “I’m so used to doing it that I’m going to make something happen. I just took my chances, and God was with me.”
Coming off the bench, Will Barton had his third 20-point game in the last four and played a season-high 39 minutes. Witherspoon (12), Jackson (10), and Antonio Barton (10) joined him in double figures. Senior Will Coleman fouled out with 1:18 left in regulation having scored three points and grabbed four rebounds.
Bryant led ASU with 16 points while Martavius Adams added 11 with 10 rebounds. The 14th-ranked Tigers scored 13 of the game’s final 15 points to improve their record to 6-0 in front of 16,342 at FedExForum.
Work remains, though, if the young Tigers are to beat Western Kentucky this Saturday night (let alone the mighty Jayhawks next Tuesday). “I told them tonight,” said Pastner, “this is about you holding yourselves accountable. Our fans deserve better. People are laying their lives on the line for our country, and we’re playing like it’s a right. No, it’s a privilege. When our backs were to the wall, we came through. We were fortunate to get the W.”