Tonight's game at FedExForum offered the Tigers a chance to shake the stink off, four days after a drubbing at Oklahoma State changed the citywide view of where the 2013-14 team is heading. With the words "course correction" in the air, Memphis raced out to a 21-8 lead over the game's first nine minutes and cruised to its second win of the season and final game before next weekend's Old Spice Classic in Orlando.
"I deserve to be criticized after our performance Tuesday night," said Memphis coach Josh Pastner after the game. "I knew [our team] would hear a lot of things this week. And I want to take as much of the heat as possible. We're grateful for the coverage we get; that's part of the territory."
"We didn't play Oklahoma State tonight," Pastner added. "I recognize that. This was more about us, and course correction."
Freshman Austin Nichols led the Tigers with 20 points in 24 minutes, hitting nine of 15 field goal attempts. He was one of four native Memphians to reach double figures, with Joe Jackson adding 18 (hitting 14 of 15 from the free-throw line), Chris Crawford 11, and freshman Nick King 12 (despite missing nine of 13 free throws). Michael Dixon (alas, a native of Kansas City) added 16 points and hit all three of his three-point attempts despite suffering a nasty scratch to his left eye early in the game.
The Tigers got to the foul line 50 times (Nicholls committed 37 fouls), but made only 31. They shared the ball well, though, picking up 22 assists on their 31 made field goals.
With 16 points, Jeremy Smith was the only Colonel to reach double digits. Nicholls has lost its first four games of the season, while the Tigers are now 2-1.
When asked if focus was difficult against an inferior opponent, Crawford insisted the Tigers' veterans made sure it was not. "When you're older, you know how important it is for you to stay focused, locked in," he said. "You can't let up; gotta finish. If we execute and do our job, we'll win."
Memphis outrebounded Nicholls, 48-34, Shaq Goodwin leading the way with eight while King and Geron Johnson added six each. Johnson took only two shots but led the Tigers with five assists.
"We've got to continue to get better," said Dixon. "We've got to work on our craft individually, and as a team, then keep moving forward. I think we'll be fine. [Tonight] there was tremendous emphasis on getting the ball inside. Austin Nichols, Dominic Woodson (eight points in seven minutes), and Nick King all did a great a job. That was the biggest thing, getting our big guys involved."
And forget the blowout win, according to Dixon: "That's senior leadership. We've got to play like the score is always zero-zero. And at halftime, they erase the score. It's a new ballgame."
The Tigers will next take the floor Thursday night in Orlando when they face Siena in their opening game of the Old Spice Classic.