You can forgive public-address announcer Chuck Roberts for his enthusiastic emphasis of “Memphis, Tennessee” as he introduced the Tigers’ starting lineup tonight at FedExForum. For the first time in a quarter century, you see, the U of M opened a basketball season with five Memphis natives on the court. Aside from the first ten sometimes-scattered minutes of the game, it was indeed an all-Memphis night, with the Tigers coasting to their ninth straight opening-night win.
“We’re role models,” said sophomore forward Adonis Thomas, one of those fab-Memphis-five. “So to see five Memphis guys start the game, it shows kids what can happen if they work hard. We all worked hard in high school to get here. It was a special moment. We’re like family, like brothers. If we get where we want to get, it will look even better for the city and our families.” For the record, Thomas was joined at tip-off by senior Ferrakohn Hall, and juniors Tarik Black, Chris Crawford, and Joe Jackson.
The Tigers missed seven of their first 10 attempts from the field and found themselves trailing the Ospreys, 20-19, midway through the first half. But Antonio Barton — a proud native of Baltimore — drained a three-pointer at the 10:00 mark to give the Tigers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Another Barton trey two minutes later helped spark a 28-5 run to end the half.
Six minutes into the second half, the Tiger lead grew to 32 and the game became more a matter of focus and energy level for the home team. North Florida actually outscored the U of M over the final 20 minutes, 41-34.
“In the first part of the game, we gave up some threes, and that’s gonna happen,” said Tiger coach Josh Pastner after the game. “But we played hard, we played with energy. The last six or seven minutes, we didn’t have that same kind of energy. We have to get better at finishing games.”
Pastner explained that Hall suffered a bout of food poisoning early this morning, and Thomas suffered a mild injury in the pregame shoot-around. Beyond that, it was a night for a veteran team to settle into its season. One of those veterans, Black, led the team with 18 points and seven rebounds.
“This is my third year,” said Black when asked to compare the win to his first two opening nights. “It was actually calmer. I understand exactly what it takes to win the game, and what my role is for this team.”
Black grinned in reflecting on the “Memphis, Tennessee” theme before tip-off. “That’s amazing. We’re all from the city, and we’re just proud. We saw the lineup, but from a team perspective, it really doesn’t matter who starts. We look at everybody as being just as talented. Let’s get out and play.”
Shaq Goodwin made his college debut with eight points, seven rebounds, and three steals in 21 minutes off the bench. According to Pastner, “Shaq energized Tarik” with his diving to the floor and sprinting in transition. Junior point guard Joe Jackson added 14 points and six assists while Barton finished with 11 points and four assists.
The Ospreys were led by Jerron Granberry with 17 points.
The U of M returns to the FEF floor Saturday night when Samford comes to town.
NOTES: • Tiger freshman Damien Wilson played only three minutes but scored his first college points on a breakaway dunk. • Junior transfer Geron Johnson sat out the first of three games as part of a suspension for accepting “educational expenses” before enrolling at the U of M.