“We’re a pretty simple team,” said Josh Pastner after tonight’s win pushed his Tigers’ record to 4-2 on the young season. “We need to defend, rebound, and run.”
For the U of M, this was a game to focus on the basics against an 0-8 Austin Peay team that is nonetheless expected to be at or near the top of the Ohio Valley Conference. Add a near-record 15 three-pointers made by the Tigers and the basics come easier. Memphis held the Governors to 33-percent shooting, had a rare win in the rebounding category (42-37), and scored 24 points on the fast break.
“We had 23 assists on 32 made field goals,” added the coach. “We really shared the ball well. And yes, we made three-point shots, but the reason we made those shots is that we were in rhythm. We moved the ball; we were unselfish. We may have been too unselfish on some of our 19 turnovers.”
The Tigers rained 11 three-pointers on the Governors in the first half alone, freshman Adonis Thomas hitting all four of his attempts from beyond the arc before the break. Memphis shot a cool 62 percent over the first 20 minutes in building a 52-27 lead.
At Pastner’s urging, Memphis maintained its defensive intensity well into the second half and never allowed Austin Peay within 20 points. With Charles Carmouche benched for a second game (an internal disciplinary matter that will also have him sit out the Tigers’ next game on Tuesday), sophomore Chris Crawford again started and spent most of his 23 minutes on the floor at point guard. He hit three of five three-point attempts and picked up seven assists (with four turnovers).
“I’ll do whatever my coach tells me to do,” says Crawford. “But I really like having the ball in my hands, getting my teammates involved.” His passes led to dunks by D.J. Stephens and Thomas on consecutive possessions midway through the second half, plays that ignited a crowd of 16,989 expecting their 22nd-ranked Tigers to impose themselves on an overmatched foe.
“It’s hard to guard us,” said Thomas after the game. “We’ve got a lot of elite players. Guys who can shoot, inside guys. We’ve got to get a winning streak going. Those two losses in Maui really hurt us. We’ve got to pick it up before the conference season starts [in January].”
Thomas finished the game with 17 points, second only to Will Barton, who scored 22 and grabbed 13 rebounds. Joe Jackson added 11 points and Tarik Black came off the bench to score 10 and grab five boards.
Melvin Baker was the only Governor in double figures with 15 points.
“For 40 minutes tonight, we had good energy,” said Pastner. “There was no drop-off. Basketball is a game of energy. You’re dealing with runs and emotions. Players feed off the crowd and vice versa. You can’t explain it, but basketball is strictly a game of energy.”
The Tigers, newly energized, will travel to Miami to face the Hurricanes next Tuesday night.
NOTE: After the game, Pastner announced that Jimmy Williams has been hired to replace departing assistant Luke Walton (who will return to the Los Angeles Lakers with the NBA’s lockout settled). Williams is a veteran assistant with time at Oklahoma State and Nebraska. He will serve through April 30, 2012, at which time the position will be evaluated long-term.