And Josh Pastner exhales. Not until Adonis Thomas converted back-to-back field goals with less than two minutes to play did Pastner's Tigers secure a win in their annual preseason game with the crosstown CBU Buccaneers. A game Memphis led 56-54 with 3:45 to play ended up 65-54, the 11-point margin of victory the lowest in the nine-year history of this series (matching an 81-70 Tiger win in 2004).
Ten quick-hit thoughts on tonight's game:
• Mike Nienaber's team will be fun to watch. The Buccaneers are a Top-20 Division II team, coming off a season in which they won 25 games and advanced to their division's sweet sixteen. And they weren't intimidated in the least by the size of their opponent (or the arena). Pat Graham hit five of CBU's 10 three-pointers, keeping the game close throughout (the Bucs led at halftime, 28-26).
• Talk before tip-off had Pastner starting five Memphians (Joe Jackson, Tarik Black, Chris Crawford, Ferrakohn Hall, Adonis Thomas). It would have been the first time the Tigers have started such a unit since 1995. Alas, Antonio Barton and Geron Johnson replaced Crawford and Thomas.
• Mark the game down as a positive for mercurial junior point guard Joe Jackson: 14 points, eight assists, nary a turnover. Antonio Barton was limited to 12 minutes, the most telling number in measuring Jackson's impact.
• There were only 12 free throws taken (combined) for the entire game. Friendly neighbors sharing a court for one night? Memphis made but two of eight attempts.
• Making their unofficial debuts for the Tigers were Johnson and two freshmen, Shaq Goodwin and Damien Wilson. Goodwin made one of two field-goal attempts while Johnson and Wilson were scoreless. Johnson played 15 minutes, Goodwin 11, and Wilson eight. Nothing to read, really, from this tiny sample. The guess here is that Goodwin will start as many games as Hall, and Johnson will have at least one night when he paces the Tigers in scoring.
• The Tigers need an alpha male to replace Will Barton. And Thomas is your leading contender. He tied Jackson for scoring honors tonight (14 points), hit a pair of treys, and converted those two late shots to clinch the win.
• Tarik Black picked up where he left off last season, when he set a Memphis record for field-goal percentage. The junior center hit six of nine shots and grabbed . . . five rebounds. (He averaged 4.9 boards last year and needs to boost that number.)
• Hall was quietly efficient. (Is there another kind of efficient?) The senior made four of five shots and pulled down five rebounds in just 19 minutes.
• D.J. Stephens remains the easiest Tiger to root for. With talk of him possibly red-shirting (as a senior?!?), Stephens hit the floor and led the team with seven rebounds . . . in 15 minutes.
• Chris Crawford scored nine points (though he missed three of four trey attempts) and delivered the highlight pass of the night, a lob to Thomas for an easy dunk in the first half. A combination Tiger fans hope to see frequently this winter.