This was exhibition basketball in January. The result will count in the books. The numbers will pad the player stats. But this was a barely glorified exhibition game in front of 14,021 fans — or at least sold seats — at FedExForum. Memphis coach Josh Pastner, to his credit, honored a commitment for what amounts to a $25,000 payday for the Magician athletic department. On the heels of a four-game stretch that featured Cincinnati, Louisville, Temple, and Connecticut, the Tigers will take the win, however packaged. (The victory, alas, will not be factored into the Tigers' RPI figure, LeMoyne-Owen being a Division 2 program.)
"When you're coming off a tough loss, you have to get one back," said Tiger guard Geron Johnson, who scored 12 points and dished out seven assists in a team-high 23 minutes of playing time. "You can't take any game for granted. A win's a win. It's another game on the schedule, one you have to play and win."
The Magicians waved a wand for six minutes after the opening tip, but 12-12 was the last tie score they enjoyed. The Tigers scored 15 points over the last four minutes of the first half to pull away with a lead of 19 (52-33) at halftime.
The mismatch made for some unique numbers, relative to the Tigers' first 16 games of the season:
• Thirteen Tigers made it onto the floor and every one of them scored. Contrast this with a team that had seen its rotation squeezed to seven players over the first four games of the new year.
• Freshman center Dominic Woodson enjoyed his most playing time (16 minutes) of the season and managed a rare 5-5-5: points, rebounds, and fouls.
• Freshman forward Nick King played his most minutes (23) of the season and led Memphis with 18 points.
• Freshman forward Kuran Iverson played 22 minutes and with 11 points outscored starters Joe Jackson (4) and Chris Crawford (9).
• Walk-ons Trey Draper and Jake McDowell each hit late free throws. Draper's was his first point of the season and drew a big cheer from the crowd for being the Tigers' 100th of the game.
Demba Konate came off the bench to lead LeMoyne-Owen with 17 points. The Magicians grabbed but one fewer rebound (44) than did the Tigers.
"It was fun," said freshman forward Austin Nichols. "A lot of the young kids got to play. We got to work on stuff we don't usually get to work on in games. It was a game to remember who we are, get down to the basics, and just have fun." Nichols hit all six of his shots from the field to score 12 points in 19 minutes. As a team, the Tigers shot 58 percent from the field and hit six of 19 from three-point range (three of them by Crawford).
"This was a bounce-back game for us," said King, who reached double figures in scoring for the first time since opening his college career with three such games. "I'm learning a lot, just how to help my teammates. Kuran and I play with the same group in practice, and there's a certain bond we have, knowing we have to work hard every minute we're on the court. It's basketball. I know I can help this team in big games."
The big games will return Thursday night when the Tigers (now 13-4) host Houston at FedExForum.
NOTE: Senior guard Joe Jackson saw his streak of games with at least 10 points end at 14. But the pride of White Station High School did manage to pass Andre Turner and move into 12th on the Memphis career scoring chart. With 44 more points, Jackson will climb past Doom Haynes and Kelly Wise and into the top 10.