Two nights after losing by 26 points at second-ranked Louisville, the Samford Bulldogs found themselves down only three (54-51) with 4:18 to play in tonight's game against the 17th-ranked Memphis Tigers at FedExForum. Playing methodically on offense and relying on a 2-3 zone defensively, the Bulldogs reduced a 12-point deficit to three over an 11-minute stretch that had 16,275 U of M fans wondering if the all-but-impossible might happen: a basketball loss on the same day as a football win.
Sophomore Adonis Thomas made sure the impossible remained only the hypothetical. He blocked a shot by Samford forward Tim Williams at one end, then followed with a jump-hook at the other to extend the Tiger lead to five, a margin the Bulldogs would not reduce the rest of the game. (The freshman Williams led all scorers tonight with 21 points.)
"I was disappointed in our lack of . . . everything," said Tiger coach Josh Pastner following the final buzzer. "We were slow offensively and defensively. It doesn't matter if a team plays zone or not. We are not going to be methodical. We have to be better. I promise you, we have not peaked, but there's no excuse. We have to mature as a team. They dictated tempo."
The smaller Samford squad somehow outrebounded Memphis, 25-24. The only Tiger players with more than two rebounds were Ferrakohn Hall (5) and D.J. Stephens (7 in 17 minutes on the floor). While Thomas led Memphis with 16 points, he failed to grab a rebound in 39 minutes of playing time.
"They stopped us from getting into transition," said Thomas. "For us, it's about getting stops defensively. When we get stops and rebound the ball, we're able to get into transition. They shot 50-percent [46.2 percent) for the game. I can't have one of these nights, but they made a lot of shots. Guys were out of position; we weren't locked in."
On four occasions, with Samford having closed the lead under 10 points, Antonio Barton drained a three-pointer to provide the Tigers a cushion they were expecting entering the game. The junior guard finished with 14 points in 30 minutes off the bench. "We thought they would come in and lay down," said Barton. "We can't play like that. We gotta do better on the defensive end. Teams are going to zone, thinking we don't have enough shooters. We can't play down to our opponents."
As for taking one lead-padding shot after another, Barton welcomes the ball in his hands. "I love having the ball for a big shot," he said. "We have a lot of guys on this team who can make a big shot, but when it comes down to it, I like the ball in my hands for that shot."
Joe Jackson hit seven of eight from the foul line and scored 13 points for Memphis.
The lone benefit to the slow pace Pastner rejects so openly? Memphis only had six turnovers for the game (and forced 16). "I only want to run set plays after made free throws or timeouts," he emphasized. "We have to dictate the pace, and that's on our guards."
Now 2-0, the Tigers head to the Bahamas for three games, starting on Thanksgiving day against VCU (tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m.).