Sometimes a host can be too gracious. After introducing the most popular Murray State alum in Memphis — new U of M football coach Justin Fuente — the Tigers fell just short in a frenetic comeback over the game’s final two minutes to a Racer team now 10-0 on the still-young season. Down 69-60 with 2:16 to play, Memphis forced four turnovers and closed the deficit to a single point (73-72) on a layup by sophomore guard Joe Jackson.
The Tigers were forced to foul Racer guard Isaiah Canaan with 7.9 seconds left after he broke through the press and dribbled unopposed toward the basket. Canaan hit both free throws and Tiger guard Chris Crawford’s three-point attempt rattled the rim before falling away, ending the U of M’s three-game winning streak and surely dropping the Tigers outside the nation’s Top 25 for the first time this season. (Memphis is ranked 21st in the latest AP poll.)
Sophomore swingman Will Barton had another stellar game for the Tigers, leading the team with 27 points (his fifth 20-point outing in six games). But he recognized his team’s shortcomings on this night, and wasn’t pointing fingers after the game.
“We came out flat,” said Barton. “And we can’t afford to do that. They’re undefeated for a reason. We can’t turn the ball over like that [Memphis had 15 turnovers]. That was my fault. My team is looking at me to be a leader, so that’s on me.”
Barton cited the Tigers’ defensive attack as a strength that must be utilized, and not just in times of desperation. “We can put pressure on like that in the halfcourt. But we have to come out like that. No matter who we’re playing. We’ve got to stay focused.”
Tiger coach Josh Pastner summarized three strategic points he had highlighted entering the game. First, his team needed to defend the three-point shot by Murray State (the Racers hit 9 of 20). Second, the Racers needed to be kept away from the free-throw line (they hit 21 of 29 from the charity stripe). Third, the Tigers had to control the visitors’ role players (while Canaan — averaging 20.3 points — was held to 15, Donte Poole hit six of eight three-pointers and led four Racers in double figures with 20 points).
Jackson added 20 points for Memphis, but Crawford, Wesley Witherspoon, and Adonis Thomas combined to make only three of 22 shots from the field. And a team that loves to push the pace saw itself outscored 23-11 on fast-break points.
“We had two good practices,” said Pastner. “After my pregame talk, I brought Chris over to the side and said, you’ve got to get the team going. But he didn’t have the same body language he normally does. We prepared the same way; the guys practiced well. Basketball’s a game of energy, and they had better energy than we did.”
Pastner acknowledged the energy burst over the game’s final two minutes, but saw a qualifier for the improvement. “That happens in any sport when a team plays in desperation,” he said. “Obviously, if we played like that for 40 minutes, we’d win every game and win the national championship.
“Chris Crawford had a great look at the end, so there’s some peace of mind in that,” added Pastner. “His shot went in and out.”
Memphis now has five days to prepare for a road game at 5th-ranked Louisville next Saturday afternoon. The contest will mark the renewal after six years of the program’s most intense rivalry. Energy will be at a premium, to say the least.
“We’re a pretty simple team,” said Josh Pastner after tonight’s win pushed his Tigers’ record to 4-2 on the young season. “We need to defend, rebound, and run.”
For the U of M, this was a game to focus on the basics against an 0-8 Austin Peay team that is nonetheless expected to be at or near the top of the Ohio Valley Conference. Add a near-record 15 three-pointers made by the Tigers and the basics come easier. Memphis held the Governors to 33-percent shooting, had a rare win in the rebounding category (42-37), and scored 24 points on the fast break.
“We had 23 assists on 32 made field goals,” added the coach. “We really shared the ball well. And yes, we made three-point shots, but the reason we made those shots is that we were in rhythm. We moved the ball; we were unselfish. We may have been too unselfish on some of our 19 turnovers.”
The Tigers rained 11 three-pointers on the Governors in the first half alone, freshman Adonis Thomas hitting all four of his attempts from beyond the arc before the break. Memphis shot a cool 62 percent over the first 20 minutes in building a 52-27 lead.
At Pastner’s urging, Memphis maintained its defensive intensity well into the second half and never allowed Austin Peay within 20 points. With Charles Carmouche benched for a second game (an internal disciplinary matter that will also have him sit out the Tigers’ next game on Tuesday), sophomore Chris Crawford again started and spent most of his 23 minutes on the floor at point guard. He hit three of five three-point attempts and picked up seven assists (with four turnovers).
“I’ll do whatever my coach tells me to do,” says Crawford. “But I really like having the ball in my hands, getting my teammates involved.” His passes led to dunks by D.J. Stephens and Thomas on consecutive possessions midway through the second half, plays that ignited a crowd of 16,989 expecting their 22nd-ranked Tigers to impose themselves on an overmatched foe.
“It’s hard to guard us,” said Thomas after the game. “We’ve got a lot of elite players. Guys who can shoot, inside guys. We’ve got to get a winning streak going. Those two losses in Maui really hurt us. We’ve got to pick it up before the conference season starts [in January].”
Thomas finished the game with 17 points, second only to Will Barton, who scored 22 and grabbed 13 rebounds. Joe Jackson added 11 points and Tarik Black came off the bench to score 10 and grab five boards.
Melvin Baker was the only Governor in double figures with 15 points.
“For 40 minutes tonight, we had good energy,” said Pastner. “There was no drop-off. Basketball is a game of energy. You’re dealing with runs and emotions. Players feed off the crowd and vice versa. You can’t explain it, but basketball is strictly a game of energy.”
The Tigers, newly energized, will travel to Miami to face the Hurricanes next Tuesday night.
NOTE: After the game, Pastner announced that Jimmy Williams has been hired to replace departing assistant Luke Walton (who will return to the Los Angeles Lakers with the NBA’s lockout settled). Williams is a veteran assistant with time at Oklahoma State and Nebraska. He will serve through April 30, 2012, at which time the position will be evaluated long-term.
Big plays and turnovers decide football games.
Tonight at the Liberty Bowl, Memphis scored a touchdown on a blocked punt and a defensive strip of Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato. The Tigers forced five turnovers and did not commit a single one themselves.
A script for victory, right?
Well, the Tigers’ leading rusher tonight was their punter. And they botched two point-after attempts. If you’ve followed the 2011 Memphis Tigers at all, you know two points erased from the scoreboard means one thing: a one-point loss. Final score: Marshall 23, Memphis 22.
“We played well in spurts,” said coach Larry Porter after the game. “The resolve of this team is something, but the inability to finish is frustrating. We just didn’t make the plays.”
For the second time in six days, Memphis let a fourth-quarter lead greater than 10 points evaporate. As deflating as last Saturday’s 41-35 loss to UAB was, Porter’s squad earned some credit for showing up on a cold night in a near-empty stadium, and fighting until the final play. (A fourth-down pass to freshman Kevin Wright fell incomplete on a play many of the few remaining fans considered pass-interference against the Herd defender.)
“It wasn’t about taking our foot off the gas,” emphasized Porter. “We’re not about that. We talked about playing a full game. We just didn’t make the plays in the fourth quarter.”
Just 77 seconds into the game, Marshall receiver Antavious Wilson took a pass at the Memphis 20-yard-line — with no Tiger defender within 20 yards of him — and pranced in for a 44-yard touchdown. It appeared the rout was on once again for a Memphis team that had given up 35.4 points per game.
But freshman quarterback Taylor Reed led an impressive 10-play drive that included completions to freshmen Wright and Reggie Travis before Billy Smith ran the ball into the end zone from a yard out.
The score remained tied at 7 until 19 seconds into the second quarter, when yet another freshman — Kendrick Golden — picked up a blocked Marshall punt and ran it 36 yards for a go-ahead touchdown. (The ensuing point-after attempt by Paulo Henriques was blocked.)
In a game of strange plays, Tom Hornsey’s punt less than two minutes into the second half was the stuff of Charlie Brown. Marshall’s Derek Mitchell broke through the Tiger line to block the kick, but Hornsey himself managed to recover the twice-stricken football from the turf. Only after being urged by astonished teammates did Hornsey take off for the sideline, pigskin in hand. His 27-yard scamper gave the ball back to the Memphis offense at the Memphis 49-yard-line. Alas, three plays later, Hornsey got to test his kicking leg again and let it sail.
With the Tigers up 16-10 and almost four minutes gone in the fourth quarter, Memphis defensive tackle Tommy Walker wrapped up Cato, allowing defensive end Frank Trotter to strip the ball and dash 18 yards to the end zone for a lead that could have been decisive. But the snap on the point-after was fumbled. And the ensuing kickoff was returned 65 yards by the Herd’s Andre Booker. Ten seconds later, Tron Martinez ran the ball in from 21 yards to cut the Tiger lead to 22-17.
Having replaced Reed early in the third quarter (Reed suffered a lower-leg injury), Andy Summerlin completed 11 passes, but not enough to sustain drives in the fourth quarter. With 6:10 to play, Marshall’s Travon Van ran through the Tiger defense for 19 yards and what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
The Tigers recovered a Marshall fumble with less than two minutes to play and had the ball, first down, at the Herd 46-yard-line. Summerlin tossed a ball over the middle to Tannar Rehrer — who earlier in the game caught his 60th pass of the season — only to see the ball slip through Rehrer’s fingers near the 20-yard-line. On the next and final play, the attempt to Wright fell incomplete.
“They lined up and really got after us,” said Porter. “We gave up two or three big plays, and that was the difference. It’s gonna hurt to watch this film tomorrow. We had the opportunity to take control of the game and we didn’t do it.” Now 2-9, the Tigers finish their season with the Black-and-Blue Game at Southern Miss on November 26th.
The Memphis Tigers have seen their share of losses over the last three seasons, but none of a certain variety: the big lead blown late. We can now cross that off the list.
Over the first three quarters this afternoon at the Liberty Bowl, Memphis scored more points (35) than in any game in two years under head coach Larry Porter. The offensive outburst was good enough for an 18-point lead entering the fourth quarter against a UAB team that entered the contest with a record of 1-8 coming off a 56-13 thrashing last week against Houston.
Then the Tigers stopped playing.
Having given up 401 yards over the first three quarters, the Tiger defense allowed 200 in the fourth. Having gained 356 yards over the first three quarters, the Tiger offense compiled 28 in the fourth. The collapse reflected the performance of freshman quarterback Taylor Reed, who completed 15 of his first 18 passes, then threw six straight incompletions over a stretch when Memphis desperately needed to maintain possession — and keep the clock running — as momentum shifted dramatically toward the visitors’ sideline. (A sideline, it should be noted, that included Porter’s predecessor, Tommy West, now the Blazers’ defensive coordinator.)
UAB quarterback Jonathan Perry completed a pass on third-and-ten from the Tiger 37-yard-line with 2:50 to play and Memphis clinging to a 35-33 lead. Just over a minute later, Blazer tailback Greg Franklin ran in from 10 yards out to give UAB its first lead of the game. (Perry ran in virtually untouched for a two-point conversion.)
“This is certainly a painful loss,” said Porter after the game. “It’s hard to swallow. I felt like we had a good game plan, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t good enough. We couldn’t find a way to finish this game. I’m terribly disappointed in the way we played in the fourth quarter. When it counted most, we couldn’t find a way to make a big play, offensively or defensively. That was the story.”
On a day 16 Tiger seniors were honored before kickoff, tailback Billy Foster represented his class with distinction. He carried the ball 10 times for 87 yards and a touchdown while catching three passes for 79 more yards, including a 50-yard catch-and-run that set up his TD.
Playing in only his third game of the season, sophomore tailback Jerrell Rhodes gained 95 yards on 17 carries and scored two touchdowns, one of them a 22-yard jaunt. The numbers only made Tiger fans wonder what might have been had Rhodes not injured his knee in the season opener against Mississippi State.
Perry starred in the Blazer comeback, finishing the game with 410 yards passing and four touchdowns (two of them in the fourth quarter). Jamarcus Nelson caught six of his passes for 133 yards and two scores. The victory is UAB’s third straight in the “Battle for the Bones” series.
Porter’s postgame press conference lasted less than eight minutes. You got the sense whatever questions might be asked would dangle before the beleaguered second-year coach. Having seen an 18-point lead evaporate in his home stadium over the course of 15 minutes, Porter’s answers would be attempts at what now seems like the impossible.
“You can’t give up as many points as we did in the fourth quarter,” said Porter. “They found a way to make plays, and we didn’t. Whether it was offense, defense, or special teams, it didn’t happen. Football is a game of adversity, and we’re going to need to fight through this. Everybody has to share responsibility for this loss.”
The Tigers now have only four days to prepare for their home finale, Thursday night against Marshall. The Thundering Herd (4-6) lost to Tulsa today, 59-17.
The 11th-ranked Tigers beat LeMoyne-Owen tonight at FedExForum, 119-67, in the first of two exhibition games before they open the season November 15th against Belmont. A few first impressions of the team:
• The Tiger players want to run. The Tiger coaching staff wants them to run. And the Tiger fan base certainly wants to see them run. With that the case, LeMoyne-Owen played its role well tonight, pushing the ball at a frenetic pace (one that led to 25 turnovers) and allowing Memphis to press pedal to metal in transition. Rarely will you see five-pass possessions this winter for the Tigers. Perhaps even more infrequent will be sightings of “10” on the 35-second shot clock. The Tigers and Magicians combined tonight for 143 shots in 40 minutes of basketball. Memphis made 60 percent and held LeMoyne-Owen to 39 percent.
• Tiger coach Josh Pastner sent the following lineup out for the opening tip: Joe Jackson, Charles Carmouche, Will Barton, Wesley Witherspoon, and Tarik Black. It’s the closest to a classic starting five on the Tiger roster and more than likely the most common we’ll see this season. Don’t expect 18 different starting lineups like the U of M had last winter, a figure that was tops in the country.
• The depth of the team is beyond anything Pastner had in his toolbox over his first two seasons at the helm. Here’s a depth chart of sorts, with players listed in order of expected playing time at each position:
POINT GUARD: Jackson, Antonio Barton, Carmouche
SHOOTING GUARD: Carmouche, Chris Crawford, Will Barton
SMALL FORWARD: Will Barton, Adonis Thomas, Wesley Witherspoon
POWER FORWARD: Wesley Witherspoon, Adonis Thomas, Tarik Black*
CENTER: Tarik Black, Stan Simpson
* Ferrakohn Hall will become eligible in December and figure in at the 4.
As a rookie coach two years ago, Pastner often found himself with a six-player rotation when injuries or illness bit the team. His challenge this season will be keeping 10 or 12 players happy with a total of 200 minutes to distribute each game.
• For the first time as a head coach, Pastner can go big. Consider this possible unit: Carmouche (6’3”), Thomas (6’6”), Witherspoon (6’9”), Black (6’8”), Simpson (6’10”). On the other hand, if he wants to out-quick an opponent, he could try this quintet: Jackson (or Antonio Barton), Crawford, Will Barton, Thomas, Witherspoon. It’s a team recruited and built for diversity in style of play. The trick will be getting the members of each style unit to mesh.
• The biggest applause for an individual player came at the 15:25 mark of the first half when freshman Adonis Thomas — ranked by some to be the top 2011 recruit in the country — took the floor for the first time. My colleague Chris Herrington described Thomas as being somewhat like the young LeBron James, in that his body looks to be four or five years older than it actually is. At 6’6” and 220 pounds, he’s definitely playing with different toys than, say, Will Barton (6’6”, 175 pounds). Thomas hit a midrange jumper for his first field goal and finished with 11 points in 24 minutes. The best thing the Melrose alum has going for him is his enormous supporting cast. Thomas doesn’t need to be a star this season for the Tigers to do big things.
• Gotta be careful with stats from a game like this. The Magicians’ tallest player was 6’7”. (Hats off to senior guard Teshawn Byron, who led the visitors with 33 points.) But two players had lines that stand out. Will Barton hit 9 of 13 shots in just 18 minutes on the floor and added five rebounds, four steals, and four assists. And making his Tiger debut, junior transfer Stan Simpson hit 7 of 8 shots for 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench.
• Pastner will not tolerate turnovers. Not with the depth he has at his disposal. The Tigers only had 11 tonight, and three of those were by Black. Point guards Jackson and Antonio Barton combined to play 37 minutes with only one turnover.
• Room for improvement? Crawford missed eight of his 10 shots (and all six from three-point range). He also led the team, though, with seven assists (tied with Jackson). Black only scored two points and grabbed four rebounds. Noticeably lighter from a season ago, he’ll need to be a presence inside, with support from Simpson and Hall.
• It was nice to see senior Wesley Witherspoon play with energy for his 14 minutes on the floor. Again, it was a small team he was abusing, but 16 points over such a short period of play is promising.
Middle Tennessee quarterback Logan Kilgore hit receiver Anthony Amos on a post pattern from 33 yards out — with 11 seconds to play — for a game-winning touchdown tonight in Murfreesboro. The 38-31 loss leaves Memphis with a record of 1-4.
The Tigers took a 17-0 lead on a keeper by freshman quarterback Taylor Reed early in the second quarter. The touchdown ended a 69-yard drive, which was seven yards shorter than the first Memphis touchdown drive (Billy Foster scored from seven yards out).
Middle Tennessee answered, though, with 17 straight points, tying the game with 3:16 to play in the third quarter on a 36-yard pass from Kilgore to Malcolm Beyah. Tied at 17 entering the final period, the two teams combined to score 35 points in 15 minutes.
Foster scored his second touchdown of the night on an option pitch from Reed with 7:53 to play to give the Tigers a 24-17 lead. Only 34 seconds later, the Blue Raiders’ D.D. Kyles ran through the Tiger defense and down the right sideline for a 59-yard score that tied the game at 24.
After forcing the Memphis offense to punt, Middle Tennessee took the ball into Tiger territory and scored on what could have been a break for the visitors. Blue Raider running back William Pratcher gained 11 yards from the Memphis 20, only to fumble on a hit by Memphis linebacker Akeem Davis. But the ball rolled into the end zone and was recovered by Beyah for a touchdown that gave the Blue Raiders a 31-24 lead with 3:14 to play.
Five straight completions by Reed helped tie the game for Memphis, the touchdown coming on a 23-yard toss to Keiwone Malone just inside the front pylon on the right side of the end zone. (Reed completed 25 of 32 passes for 230 yards.)
With the game knotted at 31, Middle Tennessee drove more than 90 yards for the winning touchdown, Amos hauling in the decisive pass with no Tiger defensive back within five yards.
The Tiger offense gained 395 yards, but the defense allowed 477 to a Middle Tennessee team that entered the game 0-3. Nine different Raider receivers caught passes for at least 10 yards, while Kyles led the way on the ground with 105 yards on 15 carries.
Memphis travels to Houston next week to face the Rice Owls in its second Conference USA game of the season.
Perhaps SMU is the model. As recently as 2007, the once-proud Mustang program was 1-11. A year later, under a new coach (June Jones), SMU again finished 1-11. But in 2009, the Mustangs tied for first in Conference USA’s Western Division and finished a respectable 8-5. This afternoon, they came to the Liberty Bowl as C-USA’s reigning Western Division champs and steamrolled the Tigers, 42-0.
The SMU offense was more clinical in its dominance of the Memphis defense than were Mississippi State and Arkansas State in earlier blowout wins over the Tigers. Instead of big plays, the Mustangs drove the field steadily behind junior tailback Zach Line and senior quarterback J.J. McDermott. Line scored the first of three one-yard touchdowns with just under three minutes expired (he now has a nation-leading 11 rushing touchdowns in four games). McDermott passed for 357 yards and three touchdowns, the biggest a 44-yard strike to freshman Der’rikk Thompson with 7:01 left in the first half to give SMU a 28-0 lead.
“We got off to a slow start,” said Memphis coach Larry Porter after the game, “and gave them too much, too early. We couldn’t respond, couldn’t regroup. Defensively, I thought we started to settle in, but we didn’t finish the way we’d like. We forced four turnovers, so there were some positives. We’ve got to continue to build.”
The Memphis offense was overmatched, both on the ground and in the passing game. The Tigers carried the ball 24 times for a net loss of 14 yards on the ground (counting four sacks of Memphis quarterback Taylor Reed). The longest carry of the day was an 8-yard run by Billy Foster. Freshman center Monte Golden — third on the team’s depth chart — was forced to start because of injuries to A.J. Antonescu and Chris Schuetz. And the inexperience showed.
“We had a horrible day offensively,” said Porter. “[Taylor Reed] is young, but he has to play better. And he needs help from the players around him.” Late in the first half, Reed completed a 46-yard pass to freshman Keiwone Malone down the left sideline, a play that gave the Tigers a first down at the Mustang 10-yard-line. A Foster carry gained nothing, though, and three straight incomplete passes by Reed gave the ball back to SMU with a zero still on the scoreboard for the home team. Reed completed 17 of 32 passes for the game, good for only 153 yards.
Porter said he never considered sending in reserve quarterback Andy Summerlin. “[Reed] is a fighter,” said Porter. “He’s a competitor. We’ve got to play better around him to give him a chance: the offensive line, receivers, everyone. They were beating us.”
The leading rusher in C-USA, Line finished the game with 136 yards on 20 carries. Darius Johnson caught 10 passes to lead SMU with 116 yards.
“It’s one mistake after the other,” said Porter. “Freshman center, freshman quarterback, two freshman receivers [Malone and Kevin Wright]. Even if we have to bleed and grind yardage, that’s okay. As long as it’s positive and gives us an opportunity to move the chains and sustain drives.” Memphis had only seven first downs (compared with 27 for SMU) and punted the ball 12 times, one shy of the record for the Tiger program.
“All four quarters, the attitude of our defense was phenomenal,” said Porter, grasping for a positive. “We had some guys I wanted to pull late in the fourth quarter, but they said no. And that says a lot. They did some solid things despite us not being able to do anything offensively.” Junior linebacker Akeem Davis recovered two fumbles and had an interception, while senior linebacker Terrence Thomas led Memphis with 13 tackles.
Now 1-3, the Tigers will play four of their next five games on the road, starting next week in Murfreesboro against Middle Tennessee (the only team the Tigers beat in 2010). SMU now finds itself 3-1 overall, 2-0 in Conference USA play. Quite possibly the program Larry Porter and staff should be aiming to emulate.
Larry Porter has taken his share of shots this month, but say this about the second-year Tiger football coach: He’s got a winning record against teams from Tennessee. In beating Austin Peay tonight at the Liberty Bowl, Memphis ended an 11-game losing streak, one that began a week after a victory over Middle Tennessee a year ago Sunday. (Porter’s only loss to an intrastate rival came against Tennessee last November.) A measure of relief could be heard in the coach’s voice during his postgame comments. “I want to commend our team for sticking together, and fighting through,” said Porter. “We got off to a very slow start, with penalties. We can’t sustain that type of play and create any kind of energy early in the game. But our defense stepped up and almost held a team scoreless. All in all, this victory was needed. It’s much easier to correct errors after a victory than a loss. We’ll continue to build from this point forward.”
Facing a second-tier team (from the Football Championship Subdivision) that lost its opener to Cincinnati, 72-10, the Tigers found themselves in a scoreless battle entering the second quarter. Had Austin Peay kicker Stephen Stansell not missed a pair of field-goal attempts, the U of M would have been down six points. But with 8:14 left before halftime, the Tigers’ freshman quarterback Taylor Reed — a left-handed passer — rolled wide left and hurled a 42-yard strike to Tannar Rehrer just inside the goal-line pylon for the first Memphis lead of the season. “That was a play we just put in this week,” explained Reed after the game. “It was a long, drawn-out double post and, honestly, the ball should have been there quicker than it was. He made a great play on the ball. It was actually designed for me to carry myself to the right and set up behind protection.”
A 30-yard field goal by Paulo Henriques gave Memphis a 10-0 lead at the half, then a bit of good fortune helped the Tigers take a commanding lead early in the third quarter. Reed connected with tight end Andrew Ena-Ita with a pass across midfield, only to watch Ena-Ita fumble the ball when hit deep in the Governor secondary. To the rescue, though, came freshman wideout Kevin Wright, who picked up the loose ball and scampered 22 yards for a touchdown that gave the Tigers a 17-0 advantage.
Thanks largely to a 93-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Billy Foster with two minutes left in the game, Reed finished his first college win with some glowing numbers: 20 completions in 30 attempts for 332 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. “You’ve got to give credit to our skill guys who made plays downfield,” said Reed. “I mean, Billy turned nothing into something big there at the end. And I wasn’t sacked at all tonight.”
Foster’s numbers jumped off the stat sheet as well, with 62 yards on the ground and 118 via four catches. Marcus Rucker caught six passes for 64 yards before leaving the game in the third quarter after being kneed in the back. On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Akeem Davis had 10 solo tackles for Memphis.
After giving up more than 600 yards against both Mississippi State and Arkansas State, the Tiger defense held Austin Peay to 368 yards and picked off a pair of Jake Ryan passes (by Lavaris Edwards and Taurean Nixon).
The Tigers (1-2) will host SMU next Saturday in their first Conference USA game of the season. (The Mustangs, now 2-1, beat Northwestern State 40-7 on Saturday.)
NOTES: The Tigers played the majority of the game with their third-string center, freshman Monte Golden, after today’s starter, Chris Schuetz left the game with a leg injury. • Porter said he does not anticipate tailback Jerrell Rhodes returning for the SMU game. Rhodes suffered a knee bruise in the opening game of the season. • Tonight was the first time Memphis has scored 20 points since its last victory (over MTSU) on September 18, 2010.
These are the games where BCS dreams go to die. When Memphis Tiger faithful — football variety — ponder the possibility (however slight) of someday joining a conference with Bowl Championship Series benefits, the nightmare of losing (again) to an SEC program by 45 points inevitably displays how wide the gap remains between the BCS haves and the U of M have-nots.
When Mississippi State’s Chad Bumphis hauled in a 44-yard touchdown pass from Chris Relf less than four minutes into Thursday night’s season opener, the rout was all but on. The 20th-ranked Bulldogs proceeded to roll up 645 yards on merely 69 plays. Tiger fans must hope this will be the ugliest statistic of the season: MSU’s first eight scoring drives took a total of nine minutes and four seconds. (The Tigers actually dominated the time of possession, with 37:20 to the Bulldogs’ 22:40. The next time an analyst tells you to pay close attention to time of possession, find a new analyst.)
Big plays exposed holes in the Memphis defense, with four of MSU’s scores coming on plays of at least 35 yards. Senior tailback Vick Ballard pranced 46 yards for a first-quarter touchdown, then added a 66-yard romp shortly before halftime. (Ballard gained a total of 166 yards on 10 carries for the game.)
“I’m very disappointed, obviously,” said Tiger coach Larry Porter after the game. “I truly thought we’d play better than we did.” The loss was the 11th straight for Memphis against teams from the SEC. The Tigers are now 2-25 against the country’s strongest league since 1997. “Once the ball got into our secondary, it was hard to bring them down,” noted Porter. “They generated speed, and we just couldn’t bring them down. I felt like we had a decent game plan to keep them off balance, but they broke off a couple of big runs, and we couldn’t bring them to the ground.”
Injuries added to the insult of the final score. Starting tailback Jerrell Rhodes gained 28 yards on his first six carries of the season, then went down after a violent hit to his knee from the Bulldogs’ Corey Broomfield just two minutes into the second quarter. (Porter said the injury appears to be a hyperextension.) Starting quarterback Andy Summerlin injured his left ankle and was replaced in the second quarter by freshman Taylor Reed, who completed 23 of 35 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown pass to Marcus Rucker.
Filling in for Rhodes, freshman tailback Artaves Gibson rushed for 89 yards on 17 carries. Porter emphasized that Gibson has earned playing time in the Tigers’ second game, September 10th at Arkansas State.
Porter surprised local media by bringing Reed to the postgame press conference. (Last season, freshmen weren’t allowed to address the media in any format.) When asked about a possible quarterback controversy, Porter was quick to say he and his staff would grade film of this game before deciding who starts against Arkansas State (presuming Summerlin is able). As for Reed, he remained bright-eyed despite the drubbing in his first college game. “I got to see from the sideline just how fast the game was,” he said. “Coming in, I felt we could move the ball, and we did. We just have to finish drives. That’s one of the best teams we’ll play all year.”
A crowd of 33,990 had thinned by the time the game ended, more than three hours after kickoff. Many of those left, alas, were wearing maroon. If there’s a silver lining, perhaps it’s the fact that this is the final SEC game of 2011 for the Memphis Tigers. The next three weeks will see the Tigers travel to Jonesboro, then host Austin Peay and SMU, all games that — not that long ago — would have been considered winnable for the U of M. Giving up 59 points and 645 yards to start a season, there’s only one direction to go. Right, Coach?
“I think what’s missing from this team is confidence,” said Porter. “We just can’t give up defensively what we did. That’s the bottom line.”
There is no such thing as a “gimme” for these Memphis Tigers. Facing Conference USA’s cellar-dwellers, the Tigers needed a 13-3 run over a five-minute stretch late in the second half to avoid becoming only the fourth C-USA victim for Tulane. A late three-pointer by Antonio Barton gave the Tigers their largest lead of the game — 64-58 — with 1:08 left in the game. The clinching shot was one of four treys the Tiger converted (in 14 attempts), compared with nine (in 18 shots) by Tulane.
The win completes the Tigers’ regular season with a record of 22-9 and earns the U of M a bye into the quarterfinals of next week’s C-USA tournament in El Paso. Better yet, the win ends a two-game losing streak that was gaining in weight on the Tigers’ collective psyche.
“Tulane lost 12 games in a row,” said coach Josh Pastner after the game, “but I think eight of those games were single digits. They lost to UTEP by three, should have beaten Marshall. A team that shoots like that . . . they’re a good team. I’d like to win by 30 or 40, but the way the league is this year — and our youth — there hasn’t been any separation.”
Positive as ever, Pastner nonetheless managed to quell any euphoria in the locker room. “I told them there’s no celebrating,” said Pastner. “I told them we’re getting on a plane Monday, and to not get on if they’re not planning on winning three games [and the C-USA championship]. Everybody’s got to be ready.”
The Tigers’ lone senior, Will Coleman, was honored before the game, strolling to midcourt with his parents and sister to thunderous applause from the crowd of 17,278 at FedExForum. He played the first six minutes of the game (scoring three points and grabbing three rebounds) then sat on the bench the remainder of the contest.
“I love Will Coleman,” said Pastner, “and I wish I could have played him 40 minutes. But because of the game and the lineup that Tulane has — they shoot threes — and the way Tarik [Black] was playing, I felt it was best for us to go small.” Freshman center Black came off the bench for Coleman and had a season-high 24 points with 11 rebounds, his first career double-double.
“It was emotional,” said Coleman. “My mom can barely walk; her back is bad. But she drove here to support me, and I love her to death.” Coleman was pleased to get the win, emphasizing that his team has work to do. “Three games is always better than four,” he stressed, “in a hostile environment like El Paso.”
The Tigers picked up 20 assists on 26 made field goals, a remarkably high percentage for a team that’s struggled with ball movement for long stretches of the season. Will Barton dished out six assists to go with 15 points and five rebounds, his finest outing since the win over UAB on February 16th. Fellow freshman Chris Crawford was also integral with seven assists and a late three-pointer that seized a 57-55 lead for the Tigers.
“It felt good to see one go down,” said Crawford. “It’s just my confidence, a mind thing. Everyone expects us to blow teams out, but Tulane’s a good team; they make shots. If we can start making shots, our confidence will be sky-high.
“I can pass, I can shoot, I can be a lock-down defender,” said Crawford. “I want to do whatever it takes to win.” Crawford and Charles Carmouche combined to limit Tulane’s Kendall Timmons to 14 points. All five Green Wave starters reached double figures in scoring.
As the Memphis locker room cleared, Black smiled when asked about the impact Will Coleman has had on him during their only season as teammates. “He’s probably influenced me more than the coaches,” said Black. “He’s where I learned everything. Playing against him, I’ve felt if I can score on him, I can score on anybody.
“The things he does in the community — I’m that kind of personality anyway, but he showed me how to do it. And just being a student in college. The first week of class, I was walking around, had to ask Will where my class was. He asked which teacher I had, told me I’d be alright. That makes you a better person all-around. I’m gonna miss him greatly; we’ll definitely stay in touch.”
Three days after a dispiriting, 15-point loss at Rice, Josh Pastner had a message (or two) to deliver for his team. With his Tigers backed into a desperate corner (again), Pastner broadcast his first message for the entire crowd of 16,550 at FedExForum. Starting at point guard against Houston tonight was Antonio Barton, with Joe Jackson on the bench for the tipoff for the first time in his college career. Returning to the starting lineup was senior center Will Coleman, who had played all of 12 minutes combined in the Tigers’ last two games. Alongside Coleman was the Tigers’ other big man, Tarik Black, making this only the fourth time the pair has started together.
The new combination — Pastner’s 15th starting lineup in 28 games — served its purpose. The Tigers allowed a slumping Houston team to stay in the contest (ten first-half lead changes), but pulled away over the game’s final five minutes with a 12-3 run for their 21st victory of the season. The win keeps Memphis tied with four other teams in the C-USA standings, each with four league losses.
“I thought we played well,” said Pastner after the game. “Houston is better than their record. Charles [Carmouche] and Antonio [Barton] hit big three-pointers late to open up the game. I give a lot of credit to Joe Jackson. He didn’t pout, didn’t sulk. And he hit a big shot in the second half when we couldn’t score.”
Carmouche filled the stat sheet with 12 points, eight rebounds, and five assists (no turnovers) in 39 minutes of action. Tarik Black added 16 points and three blocks, and Wesley Witherspoon had his most productive game in almost two months: 13 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes.
“There aren’t any second chances at this point,” said Carmouche after the game. “We gotta win out, and pretend like every game is our last. We just have to keep looking forward, and build on this win. When it came down to it, we hit some big shots and pulled it out.”
Consider another message of Pastner’s delivered to freshman Will Barton, who entered the game as the Tigers’ top scorer (13.2 points per game) and busiest player (31.1 minutes per game). The older Barton brother played six minutes tonight and did not score.
“I love Will Barton, and he’s a really good basketball player,” said Pastner. “But I just didn’t think he played well today, and he didn’t produce. When Will Barton’s locked in, he’s really good. But it’s maturity and growing. Preparation doesn’t just start when the ball’s tipped. It starts the night before. I expect him to bounce back.”
Memphis improved to 16-2 at FedExForum this season and beat a Cougar team that has now lost eight of nine games. Alandise Harris led Houston with 16 points and seven rebounds. The Tigers led 44-38 at halftime and never trailed in the second half, Houston never getting closer than two points (57-55).
Freshman guard Chris Crawford had what might be called a triple-cinco: five points, five rebounds, and five assists. “There’s no pressure,” said Crawford. “We just have to get out there and do what we do. We took [the Rice loss] bad, but we went right back out there at practice and got at it. We wanted to take it out on the next team we played. Everybody had a lot more energy.”
The Tigers travel to El Paso to face UTEP Saturday. They’ll be looking for their first win in Texas after losses at SMU and Rice.
NOTES: Antonio Barton collapsed in the Tiger huddle during the final timeout of the game and was taken to a local hospital. Pastner said the initial diagnosis was severe dehydration. Barton played 33 minutes. • Before the game, the crowd was asked to stand and observe a moment of silence in honor of Forest Arnold, who died at his Missouri home on Saturday. The first All-America at Memphis, Arnold played for the Tigers from 1952 to 1956. His number 13 is one of eight jerseys to be retired by the Memphis program.
A season of give and take continued for the Tigers tonight at FedExForum. In a game that featured 14 lead changes, Memphis took a little more than they gave to earn its 20th win of the season and fourth straight. In improving to 8-3 in Conference USA play, the Tigers leapfrogged UAB in the league standings and — with UTEP’s loss to Southern Miss — now occupy first place by percentage points (the Miners are 7-3).
UAB went on a 16-5 tear to open the second half and take a 40-33 lead, only to see Memphis answer with a 16-4 run. Playing without junior forward Cameron Moore (15.6 points per game), the Blazers stayed in the contest behind freshman Anthony Criswell (12 points, eight rebounds), sophomore Ovie Soko (18 points), and senior point guard Aaron Johnson (12 points, 10 assists).
Freshman Will Barton led the way for the Tigers with 17 points, followed by Joe Jackson with 12 and Charles Carmouche with 10. Jackson played 20 minutes, his most in four games, and converted two free throws inside the last minute that helped preserve the win. (Memphis made 6 of 9 foul shots over the game’s last 60 seconds.)
The Tigers have now won 11 straight over UAB. Will Barton acknowledged the 20th win as an important milestone. “To get 20 wins this early in the season is big,” he said in the locker room after the game. “We’ve just got to keep it going, keep pushing. Our conference is underrated; no game is a push-over. Come tournament time, you have to be able to win tight games.” Memphis is now 13-2 in games decided by fewer than 10 points.
Junior forward Wesley Witherspoon returned to the floor after missing the previous nine games due to a suspension and knee soreness. He hit all three of his field-goal attempts in 15 minutes of action. “When I found out he was playing,” said Chris Crawford, “I was probably the most excited, because I missed him. He brings a lot of energy. He’s a veteran, so we look up to him.”
The Tigers held UAB to 36 percent shooting from the field. Which is precisely what coach Josh Pastner considers the difference in this team’s fortunes. “The bottom line is difference,” he said. “We lead the league in field-goal-percentage defense. You’ve got to hang your hat on defense. We let guys have some freedom on offense, but you have to be able to defend.”
Memphis plays three of its next four games on the road, including what could be a battle for first place at UTEP on February 26th. “Every game is important,” emphasized Pastner. “A lot of people didn’t think we’d get 20 wins when we had our backs against the wall, twice. But this game’s done with. Tomorrow, we have to get back to work. Rice is a good team. We’re going to have to come out with an unbelievable fire and passion.”
Senior center Will Coleman only played eight minutes (and didn’t score a point or grab a rebound). Pastner said it was simply a matter of playing style tonight, the flow of the game dictating his substitution pattern. Coleman left the locker room before the media was allowed to enter. Freshman center Tarik Black was held to seven points (on 2 of 8 shooting) and seven rebounds in 31 minutes. Nonetheless, the Tigers outscored UAB 30-26 on points in the paint.
The Tigers’ next home game will be Tuesday against Houston, with tip-off set for 8 p.m.
Josh Pastner chuckles when he refers to his basketball team as “the cardiac kids.” But then he describes fans that insist he stop joking about chest pains and heart attacks after the latest narrow Tiger win. Deep breath, Coach.
Having trailed most of the game tonight against a Southern Miss team that entered FedExForum riding a four-game winning streak, the Tigers pulled out another nail-biter, finally separating themselves with a 10-3 run over the game’s final three minutes. Will Barton scored on an inside move with just under a minute to play to give Memphis a 63-58 lead. After a three-pointer by the Golden Eagles’ Angelo Johnson closed the lead to two, Pastner called a timeout with 35 seconds to play. The ball again found Barton who isolated himself for drive to the basket and converted an up-and-under shot to seal the victory.
“The play actually wasn’t designed for me,” said Barton after the game. “I waved Chris [Crawford] off, because they had a bigger guy on me I didn’t think could guard me. I wanted to get to the rim, make a basket or get an assist. With the game on the line, I’m not going to let someone else have the ball. I envision it, and it’s a reaction. My focus is getting to the rim, if not on my first move, then on a secondary move.”
The Golden Eagles raced out to a 12-point lead midway through the first half, led by six at halftime, and remained in front until Tiger junior Charles Carmouche buried a three-pointer to tie the score at 51 with 8:45 to play. D.J. Stephens hit a jump-hook and dunked an alley-oop pass around a three-pointer from Southern Miss star Gary Flowers to make the score 57-54 with five minutes to play. But Flowers fouled out ten seconds later, having been limited to 19 minutes and 14 points (six below his average).
Tiger center Tarik Black managed to stay out of foul trouble in the first half, despite guarding Flowers (along with a few teammates). He ended up playing a season-high 35 minutes, scored 17 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and blocked four shots. “We want to get on our own winning streak,” said Black after his team’s third consecutive victory. “This was one road block, and we had to knock it down.”
Freshman guard Chris Crawford played a stellar game for the home team, with nine points, seven rebounds, five assists, and a pair of free throws for the final points of the contest. Will Barton joined Black in double figures with 16 points, including those two critical field goals in the game’s closing minutes.
“This was a good win,” emphasized Pastner. “That’s an NCAA tournament team. They don’t get enough credit for going to Cal and winning. I’ve been in the Pac 10, so I know how hard that is. They’ve got a pro [Flowers] and a case could be made for Larry Eustachy as [C-USA] Coach of the Year. We stopped the three, and we came up with some big rebounds late.”
The win improves the Tigers’ record to 12-2 in games decided by fewer than 10 points. Better, the win moves Memphis ahead of Southern Miss (now 7-4 in league play) in the C-USA standings. “I’ve never been around a bad win,” said Pastner when asked if beating a potential NCAA-tournament team is especially rewarding. “Win by one or win by 88, it doesn’t matter. Winning’s fun, and losing stinks.”
Now 19-6 (7-3 in C-USA), the Tigers will host UAB Wednesday night at FedExForum. Tip-off at 6 pm.
Losing streaks can be deadly to NCAA tournament dreams. The Tigers must deal with their first such slide of the 2010-11 season after dropping tonight’s game against the Golden Hurricane, their first loss to Tulsa since the 2001 NIT semifinals. Despite limiting Justin Hurtt — who entered the game averaging 20.5 points per game — to 11 points (all after halftime) and despite holding Tulsa to 34-percent shooting for the game, the Tigers lost their second Conference USA game at home over the last six seasons. Memphis now must head to Gonzaga for Saturday’s game with a record of 16-6 (5-3 in C-USA play) . . . and that losing streak.
“Shots just wouldn’t go down,” said Will Barton in a quiet locker room after the game. “Looks we usually hit just didn’t go down tonight. It’s tough on your psyche. I tried not to get too down, not to worry about my individual shot. But I’m so distraught right now.” Barton made only two of eight field-goal attempts and finished the contest with 11 points. With the Tigers down 62-61 and a minute left to play, Barton drove the baseline and attempted a fade-away jumper from the right side that didn’t fall. True to form for this game.
“Tulsa got 33 extra offensive possessions,” emphasized coach Josh Pastner. “They had 16 offensive rebounds and we had 17 turnovers. And the turnovers were unforced. We have to learn to value the basketball.”
The game was rocky from the early (6:00) tip-off. Tulsa shot 28 percent in the first half but only trailed 30-27. Tulsa center Steven Idlet was limited to 21 minutes by foul trouble, but still scored 17 points on 8 of 11 shooting. The Tigers’ Will Coleman and Tarik Black combined for nine fouls (Hurtt converted two go-ahead free throws after Coleman fouled out with 1:19 to play), but also contributed a total of 24 points and 19 rebounds. Coleman earned his second double-double of the season, and Black his eighth consecutive game with at least nine points. Joe Jackson led Memphis with 16 points but was also one of three Tigers with four turnovers (along with Black and Chris Crawford).
Down three with eight seconds to play, the Tigers forced what appeared to be a turnover when an inbounds pass bounced out of bounds off the knee of Tulsa’s Idlet. Officials, though, didn’t see the play clearly and went to the possession arrow, which awarded the ball to the Golden Hurricane. Antonio Barton managed to steal the inbounds pass, but missed a three-point attempt from the top of the key. Will Barton pulled down the rebound but missed another long-distance attempt from the right corner. The win for Tulsa ended a 12-game losing streak to the U of M and improved the Golden Hurricane’s record to 12-10 (5-3 in C-USA action).
The relentlessly positive Pastner wouldn’t hear of dampened spirits after the loss. “We still have a lot to play for,” he said. “No matter what, if we can go 8-0 in the second half of the league race, we’ll be 13-3 and we’ll have won the league title. We’ve put ourselves in a bit of a hole, but we’re gonna have to find a way to get out of it. In the end, you always have an opportunity in the C-USA tournament. We want to play in the NCAA’s and compete for national championships. But to do that, we have to value possession of the basketball. We emphasize it, we run for it. We’ve got to protect it.”
Senior center Will Coleman shook his head at the suggestion of a losing streak taking hold of his team. “We had a slight mishap,” he said, a bright, white Tiger cap atop his head. “This is no downward spiral. We’re going to be fine. I have faith in my guys.”
• The great Jack Eaton was saluted before the game, as he will soon enter the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. “Big Jack” was the longtime voice of the Tigers, from 1959 to 1987.
• Junior guard Charles Carmouche missed the game with a knee injury suffered in a collision with Will Barton during practice Monday.
• The controversial call on the inbounds play near the game’s end is not a “correctible error,” and no video replay was considered to confirm the officials’ call. Thus the possession arrow.
Perhaps a corner has been turned. Coming off back-to-back road wins at Southern Miss and UAB, the Tigers dismissed any thoughts of a letdown against a slumping UCF team by storming out to a 19-point halftime lead tonight at FedExForum. Freshman swingman Will Barton hit six of nine shots for 14 points over the game’s first 20 minutes, and Memphis used a 15-2 run over the last four minutes before halftime to essentially put away a team that three weeks ago was 14-0. The Tigers shot 53 percent from the field in the first half (and 48 percent for the game) against the top-ranked defense in Conference USA.
The win improves the U of M to 16-4 (5-1 in C-USA play). And it gives the Tigers a four-game winning streak, their longest since starting the season 7-0. But the mood afterward was hardly satisfied.
“A good win for the Tigers,” said coach Josh Pastner after the game. “We are such a young team, the youngest the University of Memphis has ever put on the floor. One of the things we have to learn is that when you have a team down, you can’t get loosey-goosey. The offensive rebounds we gave up and the turnovers we allowed in the second half . . . that’s the sign of a young team.”
Will Barton scored a game-high 17 points for the Tigers, with Joe Jackson adding 12 and Will Coleman and Chris Crawford each scoring 10. Despite fouling out with 8:14 left to play, freshman center Tarik Black scored 9 points and blocked 5 shots. He’s the first Memphis player to have six straight games this season with at least 9 points. Like his coach, Black feels the team is improving, but only as part of a process.
“We’re getting better; it’s a steady process,” said Black after the game. “This game wasn’t consistent for the whole 40 minutes, but we put a good 30 minutes together. It’s probably the best we’ve been for the longest.”
Black attributed the separation on the scoreboard to the style the Tigers were able to play, especially early in the game. “We’ve always considered ourselves a running team, an athletic team,” said Black. “I don’t think too many teams in the country are as athletic as we are: Joe [Jackson], Will Coleman, D.J. [Stephens], Will Barton. I’d like to think I’m pretty athletic.”
The Tigers held UCF to 35-percent shooting for the game. The Knights’ leading scorer, Marcus Jordan, only had six points at halftime and finished with 13. Keith Clanton was held to 7, less than half his average. The loss is the fifth straight for UCF (now 14-5).
“We got our offense off our defense,” said Pastner. “That’s why we were able to extend our lead.”
So, a corner turned? “I don’t think there’s necessarily a corner to turn,” said Black. “But we’re getting better, and you can start to see how much we’ve learned.”
The Tigers travel to Marshall Saturday to face the Thundering Herd, a team they beat in Memphis on January 15th.