Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Temple 77, Tigers 66

Posted By on Wed, Jan 25, 2017 at 7:16 PM

The Tigers' chances of dancing in the NCAA tournament took a hit Wednesday night in Philadelphia. Led by 22 points from Shizz Alston, the Temple Owls ended the U of M's three-game winning streak to earn just their second win in eight American Athletic Conference games. The loss drops Memphis to 15-6 overall and 5-3 in the AAC.

Despite shooting 33 percent over the game's first 20 minutes, the Tigers entered halftime with the score tied at 30. But Temple had a 10-point lead less than five minutes into the second half and extended the margin to 12 on back-to-back three pointers by Obi Enechionyia and Alston. Daniel Dingle added 16 points for Temple (11-10) and Mark Williams scored 15 off the bench.

The Owls held the Tigers' top scorer, Dedric Lawson, to 13 points. (Lawson left the game near the end of the second half with what appeared to be neck soreness.) Point guard Jeremiah Martin led Memphis in the scoring column with 16 points and Markel Crawford added 15, though only four in the second half. The Tigers shot 40 percent for the game while Temple hit 48 percent of their shots from the field and buried 11 three-pointers.

The Tigers return to FedExForum Saturday afternoon to face East Carolina. Tip-off is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Memphis Tigers: By the Numbers

Posted By on Mon, Jan 23, 2017 at 10:57 AM

As I left press row after the Tigers win over UCF Sunday, a game official asked me, "How is it possible that we are 15-5?" I paused, smiled at him, and said, "No easy answer." When it comes to the inexplicable, we can always turn to numbers. Here are a few that reflect the Tigers' season to date.

1.4 — The Tigers' assist/turnover ratio (or merely "ratio" in modern parlance). The figure ranks second in the American Athletic Conference, slightly behind only the league's pace-setter, Cincinnati (1.5). Share the ball, move the ball, and protect the ball. Those are the three basic rules to Tubby Smith Basketball-Offense. Memphis has collectively handed out 342 assists while committing only 239 turnovers. Its opponents have 250 assists and 289 turnovers.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dedric Lawson
34.3 — The average minutes played, per man, for Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson, Markel Crawford, and Jeremiah Martin (previously referred to in this space as the team's "four horses"). I had the sense the workload had caught up to K.J. Lawson until he scored 28 points and pulled down 16 boards in the win at Houston last week. Thirty minutes a game can be taxing on a point guard's skills, but there was Martin Sunday, committing only two turnovers in 38 minutes against the Knights. These Tigers are a six-man rotation, and Craig Randall is averaging but 17.9 minutes per game.

9 — The number of Memphis players to score 1,000 points in their first two seasons in a Tiger uniform. With 917 to date, Dedric Lawson will soon become the 10th (as long as he stays healthy . . . deep breaths). If Lawson maintains his 19.8 points-per-game average for the rest of the regular season, he'll pass — deep breath again — Keith Lee (1,113) for fourth among two-year Tigers, with Larry Finch (1,148) in sight. Penny Hardaway's standard (1,319) will be hard to surpass, but the younger of the two Lawson brothers is proving himself to be historically good in these parts.

10.0 — The increase in scoring average for Markel Crawford between his sophomore (2015-16) and junior seasons. Crawford's 15.3 ppg ranks sixth in the AAC. This is a player seen — until this winter — as a solid defensive stopper, an "energy guy." A quick answer to that question about this team's surprising record would be "five" (Crawford's uniform number).

5 — The number of games Memphis has won despite losing the rebounding battle. The Tigers have lost three such games. Which means this undersized, undermanned team has pulled down more rebounds than its opponents in 60 percent of its games. This is a credit, largely, to the Lawson boys who rank second (Dedric, 10.2) and third (K.J., 8.3) in the AAC in rebounding. But it's further proof that the Tigers' ability to protect the ball — protect possessions, offensive opportunities — counter-balances the extra shots an opponent might get from a rebounding advantage.
Jeremiah Martin - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jeremiah Martin

4.5 and 2.1
— Jeremiah Martin's averages for assists and steals, respectively. The Tigers' sophomore point guard is the only player to rank among the top four in the AAC in both categories (he leads the league in steals), meaning he is a legitimate candidate for all-conference honors in a few weeks. This from a player who averaged fewer than 14 minutes a game as a freshman.

1 — The number of Tubby Smiths on the planet. Channeling the late, great John Wooden, Smith summarized his team's progress after the UCF win: "Winning is a by-product of the things we teach." The word "coaching" implies direction. The word "teaching" implies instruction. Twenty games into the Tubby Smith era in Memphis, it's fair to say the Tigers are learning a way to play basketball, one that has proven successful 75 percent of the time the U of M has taken the floor. Much more to achieve, with big challenges ahead (road trips to Cincinnati and SMU to name two). Smith added an important detail during Sunday's press conference, one that hints at the secret to his teaching: "It helps when we're winning. They listen better."

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Tigers 70, UCF 65

Posted By on Sun, Jan 22, 2017 at 6:34 PM

This is what college basketball looks like come March. Memphis and UCF traded big punches early, then jabbed one another steadily for 35 minutes, the margin on the scoreboard for most of those minutes no more than three points. It was a contest to be expected from teams that consider themselves contenders for the American Athletic Conference championship and an NCAA tournament berth. Jimario Rivers put back a Dedric Lawson miss to give the Tigers a 63-60 lead with 2:48 to play and junior guard Markel Crawford followed with a steal and three-point play for just enough to extend the Tigers' winning streak to three games. The victory improves Memphis to 15-5 on the season and ties the Tigers with UCF at 5-2 in AAC play (the Knights are now 14-5).

"I was really impressed with our kids today," said Tiger coach Tubby Smith. "Especially banged up as we were today. [Rivers and Dedric Lawson each fell to the floor with what initially looked like serious injuries, only to return to the game.] They showed a lot of guts, toughness. We did the things we had to do at the end of the game to get the win: the stops, free throws."
Markel Crawford - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Markel Crawford

Freshman forward K.J. Lawson stuffed the stat sheet with 16 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals, and a block. His younger brother was limited to just 11 first-half minutes by a pair of fouls, but finished the contest with 14 points and five rebounds. Dedric had his hands full at both ends with UCF center Tacko Fall, the 7'6"  sophomore from Senegal. Fall scored 15 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, helping the Knights to a healthy 41-28 advantage on the glass, but the Tigers' defensive intensity proved to be the difference, forcing 16 turnovers, which led to 22 points.

Rivers and Crawford each scored 12 points for the Tigers, the latter hitting four consecutive free throws after being fouled and then shoved by Knight guard Matt Williams with 7:33 left in the game. (The foul shots gave the U of M a 56-49 lead at the time.) Crawford acknowledged he felt it was his job to "get in [Williams's] head," the senior having averaged 16.3 points per game for UCF entering Sunday's tilt.

As far as Fall was concerned, the Tigers recognized subtleties to their advantage, one being that Fall isn't a quick jumper (according to K.J. Lawson), another that he has trouble on his second jump for a rebound (according to Crawford). The Tigers ended up blocking more shots (four) than the Knights (three).

"We give up a lot of size, a lot of bulk," said Smith. "But we talk about overcoming obstacles. The greater the challenge, the greater the reward. You have to over-achieve when you're smaller. It's a mentality thing. They're fighters."

The Tigers hit 18 of 23 free throws and were moderate from both the three-point line (35.3 percent) and the field overall (41.1 percent). Percentages aside, it was a relentless approach — and a flexible approach — that prevailed.

"We tried a lot of different things offensively," said Smith. "But that's the versatility of the five guys who started. We also have some outstanding defenders, and that creates offensive opportunities, too."

The Tigers next travel to Philadelphia to face Temple Wednesday. They return to FedExForum next Saturday when East Carolina comes to town.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Tigers 70, Houston 67 (OT)

Posted By on Thu, Jan 19, 2017 at 10:45 PM

The Tigers erased a five-point deficit in the last three minutes of regulation, then outscored Houston 6-3 in a sloppy overtime period to earn their biggest win of the season to date. Redshirt-freshman K.J. Lawson emerged from a midseason slump and achieved career highs in both points (28) and rebounds (16) to help Memphis improve to 14-5 on the season and move ahead of the Cougars in the American Athletic Conference standings with a 4-2 league record. Memphis is now 2-1 on the road in AAC play and has won both of its overtime games this season.

Sophomore forward Dedric Lawson earned his 14th double-double of the season with 18 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out barely a minute into the overtime period. (He's now tied with Lorenzen Wright for eighth in program history with 31 career double-doubles.)

Point guard Jeremiah Martin converted a three-point play on the receiving end of a lengthy pass by K.J. Lawson with 12 seconds to play in regulation to seize a 64-62 lead. But Cougar forward Chicken Knowles dropped in a short put-back with just three seconds left to force the extra session.

Junior guard Markel Crawford hit a short leaner to give the Tigers a 69-65 lead with just under two minutes to go in overtime, a field goal that proved to be the clincher. Memphis committed an ugly turnover on an inbounds play with less than 15 seconds left, but the Cougars missed a pair of three-point attempts to tie the game.

Crawford finished with 9 points and 11 rebounds, while Martin had 10 points for the victors. The AAC's leading scorer, Rob Gray, led Houston with 21 points. The Cougars fell to 13-6 (4-3).

The Tigers won despite missing 12 of 21 free-throw attempts and committing 16 turnovers. They won the rebounding battle, though, 47-40.

Memphis returns home Sunday to host UCF at FedExForum. Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Tigers 62, USF 56

Posted By on Sat, Jan 14, 2017 at 8:31 PM

Three days after a disappearing act at Tulsa, the American Athletic Conference's reigning Player of the Week reappeared Saturday at FedExForum. And how.

Junior Markel Crawford poured in a career-high 30 points, made a key last-minute steal, and hit four free throws to seal an all-too-tight victory over the AAC's cellar-dwellers from South Florida. Crawford scored more points in the game's first 12 minutes (11) than he did in 34 (8) against the Golden Hurricane. He hit 10 of 17 shots from the field (5 of 10 from three-point range), pulled down seven rebounds, and had three assists and steals.
Markel Crawford - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Markel Crawford

"Markel does the same thing after every game," said sophomore forward Dedric Lawson, who stuffed the stat sheet with 11 points, six rebounds, five assists, and five blocks. "He goes to the gym and gets shots, finds his routine. It paid off today."

Having struggled mightily in the rebounding department of late, the Tigers won the battle of the boards Saturday — against a bigger team — with 39 rebounds to the Bulls' 35. Junior Jimario Rivers pulled down a season-high 11, but perhaps more impressive were the five "team rebounds," those that go unattributed, but mean a new possession for the Tigers. "One of our goals was to out-rebound South Florida, even though they're a bigger team," said Crawford. "If we're going to go far, we have to gang-rebound, go inside, be tough, put bodies on people."

Memphis led by eight at halftime (30-22), extended the lead to 14 (48-34) on a breakaway dunk by Crawford midway through the second half. But USF enjoyed a 7-0 run inside the five-minute mark and closed within two (56-54) when Ruben Guerrero slammed home an offensive rebound and converted a free throw after being fouled by Dedric Lawson.

USF inbounded the ball after a timeout with 44 seconds to play and down just three points (57-54). But Crawford tapped the ball away from Bulls guard Geno Thorpe and converted a pair of free throws after Thorpe fouled him as he rose to the rim. The points proved decisive in helping the Tigers improve to 13-5 and 3-2 in AAC play. USF has now lost five in a row and is 6-10 (0-5).

Thorpe and Malik Fitts led the Bulls with 12 points each.

"We have to play better offensively," said Tiger coach Tubby Smith after his 570th career win. "Their zone gave us all kinds of problems. K.J. [Lawson] struggled [1 for 11 from the field], but I can't say enough about Markel. He stepped up, huge buckets, the steal there at the end. He and Jimario really played well, and we needed them to. Teams are going to focus on Dedric, try to take him out of the game."

USF played a zone defense throughout the game, changing from a 2-3 at times to 1-3-1. If Crawford doesn't hit from the outside, the Tigers find themselves hamstrung against zones. (The rest of the team was one for 11 from three-point range Saturday.)

"We had good looks," said Smith. "Probably fatigue hit us again. I've never coached a team that played a perfect game. But we got the win. I thought we defended extremely well, and we rebounded better."

All five Memphis starters played at least 35 minutes, and Smith did not make a substitution in the second half. All the more reason the Tigers needed a player with Crawford's recent credentials to make the difference he did.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Tulsa 81, Tigers 71

Posted By on Wed, Jan 11, 2017 at 9:27 PM

Wednesday night was hardly the Tulsa homecoming Memphis coach Tubby Smith envisioned. The veteran coach led the Golden Hurricane to 79 wins over four seasons (1991-95) and a pair of Sweet 16 appearances in the NCAA tournament. Those lines on Smith's resume were good enough for some cheers during pregame introductions, but little more on a night his Tigers saw a three-game winning streak end.

Tulsa scored seven straight points after Dedric Lawson tied the game at 69 with just under 2:30 to play to clinch its eighth win of the season. The Golden Hurricane is now 8-7 overall and 2-1 in American Athletic Conference play. Memphis falls to 12-5 (2-2).

Junior Etou led the way for Tulsa with 23 points and 13 rebounds. His three-point play with 1:15 left gave Tulsa a 74-69 lead, plenty of cushion as the game unfolded.

Tulsa hit 25 of 30 free throws, while the Tigers missed 10 of 23 shots from the charity stripe. Dedric Lawson led Memphis with 26 points and point guard Jeremiah Martin added 20. Fresh off being named the AAC's player of the week, Tiger guard Markel Crawford was held to eight points. The Golden Hurricane dominated the boards with a 41-29 rebounding edge.

Memphis trailed by 10 (51-41) early in the second half, but roared back and took the lead on a steal, layup, and free throw by Martin with 10:30 to play. But the Tigers were unable to sustain a defensive presence over the game's final ten minutes, perhaps an indication of fatigue for a team with little bench support.

The Tigers return to FedExForum Saturday to host USF in a game scheduled to tip off at 5 p.m.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Memphis Tigers Midseason Report

Posted By on Mon, Jan 9, 2017 at 9:33 AM

With their win Sunday at Tulane, the Tigers passed the midpoint of their 2016-17 campaign. At 12-4, Memphis is one game better than it was after 16 games a year ago. The aim, of course, is to avoid the 4-9 stretch that destroyed Josh Pastner's last season as head coach. You remember that six-week free-fall, don't you? Losses to East Carolina (at home), Tulane, and South Florida, hardly American Athletic Conference title contenders.

Is this year's team equipped to win more than 19 games? To contend for the AAC championship and an NCAA tournament bid?

Here's what we've learned over the season's first two months.

Four horses. "Horsemen" would be too apocalyptic, so we'll stick with the four-legged metaphor. The Tigers — like thoroughbreds in spring – will go as far as Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson, Markel Crawford, and Jeremiah Martin take them. Due respect to the rest of Tubby Smith's roster, and the practice duty of players like Christian Kessee, Keon Clergeot, and Jake McDowell. Supporting casts are important when the cameras are off and the arena's empty. But come game night, this basketball team may as well be the Beatles. Each of the four horses is averaging at least 30 minutes a game. (Last season, only Dedric Lawson averaged that many and six players averaged at least 20.) In eight games this season (half their schedule), at least three of these four players played 35 minutes. In the overtime win at Oklahoma on December 17th, they all played at least 40. In the four-point loss to SMU on December 27th, all four played all 40 minutes.

This is a dramatically different approach from last season, when Pastner would make as many as 15 substitutions before halftime. There's risk, of course. A significant injury to any of the four horses would compromise not just the look of the team, but its very playing style. But if they can stay heathy — two games a week, that's all — the kinship the four feel on the hardwood may go beyond anything the two actual brothers have known as teammates.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tubby Smith

Tubby Smith can "develop" players. I'll explain the quotation marks. The standard definition of "development" at the college level — in measuring a coach's impact — is the improvement of a player under a coach's guidance from one season to the next. Smith was not here last season, so can the astounding improvement of both Crawford and Martin be considered "development" under the first-year coach? If not, Smith should at least be credited with uncovering whatever these two guards had buried within themselves twelve months ago.

After averaging 2.7 points and barely an assist per game as a freshman (in 13.8 minutes per game), Martin is averaging 9.2 points and 4.8 assists. Better yet, he's protected the ball, committing only 29 turnovers while averaging 33.9 minutes on the floor. And Crawford has been the team's second-best player, improving his scoring average from 5.3 points per game as a sophomore to 15.4 this season. He's averaging a healthy (for a guard) 4.9 rebounds per game, while applying the same defensive pressure that kept him on the floor his first two seasons. And call this an intangible, but Crawford seems to be enjoying basketball this season. He's been healthy and productive, vocal and energetic. Reminds me of Antonio Anderson, the popular "glue guy" during the four-year, 30-wins-a-season period under John Calipari. Whether or not Smith deserves credit for developing Martin and Crawford, there's  a coach in Atlanta, Georgia, wondering where these two were a year ago.

Number one. Joe Jackson wore this number proudly not that long ago, but sophomore Dedric Lawson is taking it places few Tigers have gone before. In averaging 20.4 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, Lawson has reeled off 13 double-doubles in 16 games and become only the ninth Tiger with 30 such games in his career. (Five Tigers had 40, the last being Kelly Wise.) If he maintains his scoring average, Lawson will join a Tiger Rushmore with 1,100 points in his first two college seasons (Penny Hardaway, Win Wilfong, Larry Finch, and Keith Lee).
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dedric Lawson

Draft Express does not have Lawson being selected (first or second round) in its latest mock draft. has him going in the second round (49th). He'll have to get stronger to make an impact as a professional that approximates what he's done as a teenager in college. (Lawson turned 19 last October.) But he is a college star of the first order, worthy of larger crowds than he's seen at FedExForum to this point. (Fewer than 11,000 fans attended last week's victory over once-mighty UConn.) The hope must be that Lawson stays healthy and leads this team to postseason play, where more of the country will enjoy his talents, and a few scouts might adjust their mock drafts.

Steady as she goes. I've attended countless postgame press conferences over the last decade. Calipari liked to entertain or play the role of grouch. Pastner became predictable, deferring to his players and coaches in good times, leaning on his positive-energy crutch when times got rocky. I've been struck this season by Smith's quite-casual fielding of questions, and honest responses, sometimes to a fault. ("We probably should have used our bench more in the second half," he said after the UConn game. Imagine Calipari offering genuine self-criticism . . . after a win.) Smith brought a quarter-century of head-coaching experience with him, but has engaged himself with the talents — yes, they're limited — of this specific team.

"We've got some self-motivated kids, who love to play the game," said Smith after a blowout win over McNeese State in November. "Today, it was about sharing the basketball. There wasn't a whole lot of strategy we had to change at halftime. Don't look at the scoreboard. Concentrate on getting better. Sometimes that's hard to do. I've had players try to get outside their comfort zone. When that happens, I recognize it, and the team recognizes it. So play the right way. It's a team sport. Like anything else, you can accomplish a whole lot if you don't care who gets the credit."

This is a down year for the AAC. It's hard to imagine a team reaching the NCAA tournament without winning 13 or 14 league games (out of 18). Eleven wins in their final 15 games would get the Tigers to 13-5 in the AAC and 23-8 entering the conference tournament in Hartford. That's a lot to ask from a team with no measurable depth and little size. But with a wise, grounded coach at the helm and a certifiable star on the floor 35 minutes a game, these Memphis Tigers could surprise come March. Just play the right way.

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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Tigers 80, Tulane 59

Posted By on Sun, Jan 8, 2017 at 4:05 PM

The Tigers eased their way to a third straight win this afternoon in New Orleans, improving to 12-4 while handing Tulane its fifth straight loss. Dedric Lawson scored 24 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for his 13th double-double in 16 games, and the 30th of his two-year college career. (Lawson becomes the ninth Memphis player with 30 such games.) Markel Crawford continued his midseason scoring surge, putting up 24 points and draining five three-pointers. Crawford has averaged 23.7 points over the Tigers' last three games after averaging 13.5 in the first 13 games of the season.

The win improves Memphis to 12-4 for the season and 2-1 in the American Athletic Conference. Tulane falls to 3-12 (0-3).

The Green Wave enjoyed an 11-0 run midway through the first half to take a 25-20 lead, only to surrender a 13-0 Tiger counterpunch sparked by a Crawford trey and steal-and-dunk by point guard Jeremiah Martin. Memphis led 36-26 at halftime and extended its lead to 17 less than eight minutes into the second half.

The Tigers cruised despite committing a season-high 21 turnovers. They shot 52 percent from the field while holding Tulane to 34 percent. Memphis hit nine of 21 shots from long-distance and outrebounded the Green Wave, 43-32.

Freshman forward K.J. Lawson added 13 points and 8 rebounds for the U of M. Melvin Frazier and Kain Harris led Tulane with 15 points.

The Tigers are now 2-1 on the road this season and travel to Tulsa to face the Golden Hurricane on Wednesday.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Tigers 70, Connecticut 61

Posted By on Thu, Jan 5, 2017 at 9:20 PM

Until another American Athletic Conference team wins a national championship, the UConn Huskies are the young league's standard bearers. Having won four national titles since 1999, Connecticut entered Thursday's game at FedExForum beaten up both by injuries and by the opposition (5-8 record). The Huskies managed to take an early five-point lead, but then reverted to form for their fourth consecutive loss. Sophomore forward Dedric Lawson picked up his 12th double-double of the season (15 points and 11 rebounds) and junior guard Markel Crawford contributed 19 points as the Tigers improved to 11-4 for the season and evened their AAC mark at 1-1.
Markel Crawford - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Markel Crawford

"The defensive effort was outstanding," said Memphis coach Tubby Smith. "And it had to be, because [UConn] dominated the boards. I don't think I've had a team that lost by 21 on the boards [49-28] and still won. We took care of the basketball the right way." The Tigers contributed only four turnovers while handing out 18 assists on 29 field goals. They held UConn to 38 percent from the field and forced 15 turnovers.

"We wanted to push the ball [offensively] and extend our defense," added Smith. "We scored 19 fast-break points. Even though they had size, we wanted to attack inside. They backed off and tried to make us beat them with the three . . . and we tried. But that's not our game. We got back to passing the ball, sharing it the right way."

Crawford hit a three-pointer to put Memphis up 10 (30-20) late in the first half, then converted a pair of field-goal attempts to open the second half. A trey by reserve guard Craig Randall gave the Tigers a 14-point cushion (42-28) just over three minutes into the second half and the Huskies never again closed within five points.

While UConn's having a down year by its lofty standards, the Tiger players consider the win a significant step toward their team's ultimate goal. "It's satisfying," said Dedric Lawson. "They've been a powerhouse program in the past. We came through. No matter who their players are, it's still UConn."

Jimario Rivers scored 16 points despite being limited to 24 minutes by foul trouble in his fourth start since Chad Rykhoek's ankle injury. The Tiger bench was again extremely short, with only Randall (21 minutes) and Keon Clergeot (5) seeing action on the floor.

Center Amida Brimah led Connecticut with 15 points and 10 rebounds. No other Husky scored as many as 10 points.

"We want to protect home court," said Crawford. "We don't want to get up 20 and get lackadaisical. We did a good job of keeping the pressure on."

"We're not the biggest team," added Lawson, "but we fight, and we get into the paint." The younger of the two Tiger Lawson brothers now has 29 double-doubles in his two-year career. Two more will tie him with Lorenzen Wright for eighth in Memphis history.

The Tigers' next two games will be on the road, first Sunday at Tulane, then on January 11th at Tulsa.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Tigers 95, Incarnate Word 71

Posted By on Wed, Dec 21, 2016 at 10:24 PM

Lawson double-doubles — pick your brother — have become commonplace at FedExForum this season. Not so much scoring outbursts from freshman guard Keon Clergeot. Wednesday night, 7,919 devoted Tiger fans saw both (or all three, if we're being literal).

Sophomore forward Dedric Lawson led the way (again) with 25 points and 12 rebounds, his 10th double-double of the season and 27th of his career (one more than Joey Dorsey had in four seasons). Redshirt-freshman K.J. Lawson added 20 points and 12 rebounds, the sixth time he's doubled up his younger brother's stat-line combo. That was the commonplace.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Keon Clergeot

Into the playing-time void left by center Chad Rykhoek, though, stepped Clergeot. With the senior center watching from the bench, a boot hugging his dislocated left ankle, Clergeot scored 23 points in 21 minutes, hitting six of seven shots from the field, including all four of his attempts from beyond the three-point arc. Shortly after UIW climbed within two points (21-19) midway through the first half, Clergeot scored seven points in 24 seconds, hitting three-pointers on consecutive possessions and draining a free throw after being fouled on the second. (Clergeot hit all seven of his foul shots for the game.) Over a four-minute stretch, Memphis extended its lead from two points to 14 (34-20), and managed to cruise the remainder of the contest.

"It's a relief," said point guard Jeremiah Martin, when asked about Clergeot's impact from the bench. "It takes pressure off me. I can pick up my defensive intensity, play a little harder." Martin had his lightest workload (29 minutes) in five games, but still led Memphis with seven assists.

"He's my roommate," added Dedric Lawson, "and I told him to be ready today, that I thought his number would get called. He did what he's supposed to do."

"He's just got to keep his head clear," said K.J. Lawson. "When a guy comes out of high school averaging 25 points, you just gotta take it game by game. Soak in the knowledge and be ready to play when your number's called."

Markel Crawford added 11 points to help the Tigers improve to 9-3 in their final tune-up before American Athletic Conference play opens next week. UIW falls to 5-6 for the season.

"We came ready to play, focused," said Tiger coach Tubby Smith. "It's easy to look past a game like this, especially with the holiday break. Incarnate Word was aggressive; I knew they'd scrap. I like the way our team played, especially Keon. He's been struggling, but he stepped up tonight and played extremely well."

Smith is now coordinating a limited roster, forced to start junior Jimario Rivers and boost the playing time of reserves like Clergeot and Craig Randall. From mixing defenses to a continued emphasis on moving the ball, the veteran coach seems prepared for the heightened challenges ahead. "For me, a win is giving it your all," he said. "We need to improve our outside shooting, continue to share the basketball. We're going to have to improve between now and December 27th [when SMU visits]."

Frustrated with a first-half possession in which his team did not share the basketball as expected, Smith slammed the scorer's table with his right hand. Like Clergeot's shooting, it was an atypical outburst for the 2016-17 Memphis Tigers. When asked about his display after the game, Smith smiled before answering: "I was trying to wake up the crowd."

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Boca Raton Bowl: Western Kentucky 51, Tigers 31

Posted By on Tue, Dec 20, 2016 at 10:16 PM

Mike Norvell's first season as coach of the Memphis Tigers ended Tuesday night in South Florida. Facing one of college football's top-scoring teams, the U of M was unable to answer with enough offense of its own. Western Kentucky tailback Anthony Wales carried the ball 35 times for 253 yards and three touchdowns (while also catching four passes for 84 yards) and Hilltopper quarterback Mike White passed for 336 yards and three scores to lead the Conference USA champs. Western Kentucky accumulated 598 yards of total offense, the seventh time this season Memphis has allowed more than 500 yards in a game.

In scoring 31 points, Memphis finished with a season total of 505, only the second time (after last season's 522) the Tigers have topped 500 points in a campaign. Wide receiver Anthony Miller played a starring role (again) with 11 catches for 151 yards and three touchdowns, giving him season totals of 95 receptions, 1,434 yards, and 14 touchdowns, all single-season marks for the Memphis program. Tiger quarterback Riley Ferguson threw for 372 yards and four touchdowns, establishing a new Tiger record for touchdowns in a season with 32. But he also threw an interception, lost a fumble, and missed a second-half series after injuring his left ankle. (He returned after the injury and threw a 45-yard scoring strike to Miller.)

Memphis took an early 7-0 lead on a screen pass Tony Pollard took 45 yards down the right sideline. But the Hilltoppers scored touchdowns on their next four possessions to take a 28-17 lead into the halftime break. The Tigers' all-conference kicker, Jake Elliott, hit the left upright on a 43-yard field-goal attempt early in the second quarter, costing Memphis precious points in a game dominated by the two offenses.

White connected with Taywan Taylor for a 41-yard touchdown early in the third quarter to extend WKU's lead to 35-17. Taylor finished the game with nine grabs for 144 yards.

The Memphis offense turned the ball over on downs on its first possession of the second half then lost a fumble on its second, leading to a three-yard touchdown run by Wales that put the game out of reach (41-17) midway through the third quarter.

Western Kentucky thoroughly dominated the ground game, rushing for 262 yards to the Tigers' 73.

The loss drops Memphis to 8-5 for the season while Western Kentucky finishes with eight straight wins and an 11-3 record.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Tigers 99, Oklahoma 94 (OT)

Posted By on Sat, Dec 17, 2016 at 2:19 PM

Memphis earned what could be called its most impressive victory in three years this afternoon in Norman, Oklahoma. A team not known for its prowess at the free-throw line hit 28 of 32 from the stripe, most importantly six of six in the final minute of regulation and four of four in the final minute of overtime to earn its eighth win of the season. Sophomore forward Dedric Lawson introduced himself to a national-TV audience by scoring 26 points and pulling down 12 rebounds in 43 minutes of action, his ninth double-double of the season (and 26th of his career).

The win will certainly be dedicated to senior center Chad Rykhoek, who went down late in the first half with what appeared to be a serious injury to his left ankle. (Rykhoek left the floor on a rolling cart.) The Tigers' bench scored only eight points, all of them by Rykhoek's replacement, junior Jimario Rivers.

The Sooners almost shot the Tigers out of the building in the first half, hitting 17 of their first 21 field-goal attempts, including 13 in a row over an eight-minute stretch to take a 13-point lead. But the Tigers rolled with the punches, closing the gap to nine (47-38) at halftime.

Memphis stayed within 10 points throughout the second half, finally closing to a single-possession deficit inside the game's final seven minutes. Sophomore point guard Jeremiah Martin stole a Sooner pass and drew a foul in transition with just under a minute to play and Memphis down 77-76. He hit both free throws to give the Tigers their first lead of the game. (Martin entered the game shooting 50 percent from the foul line this season.) Martin hit two more free throws and Markel Crawford connected on four of four down the stretch as Oklahoma intentionally fouled to stop the clock. But Sooner guard Jordan Woodard slung in a three-pointer off the glass from the left wing with less than a second to play to force overtime.

Martin opened scoring in the extra session by converting a three-point play. Rivers followed with a dunk, but Oklahoma tied things at 89 on two baskets (one of them a trey) by Woodard. Memphis took the lead for good when Dedric Lawson hit a jumper from the left elbow with 2:30 to play. He and his brother, K.J. Lawson, each hit two free throws in the final minute to secure the win.

For the game, the Tigers hit 57 percent of their field-goal attempts. After its red-hot start, Oklahoma finished at merely 48 percent from the field. The Sooners fall to 6-4 for the season.

Martin finished with a career-high 25 points, Crawford added 20, and K.J. Lawson 19. Woodard led the Sooners with 22 points.

The win is the Tigers' first true road victory of the season and improves the U of M record to 8-3. Memphis returns home to play Incarnate Word at FedExForum next Wednesday. It will be the Tigers' final test before conference play opens with a home tilt against SMU on December 27th.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Monmouth 82, Tigers 79

Posted By on Tue, Dec 13, 2016 at 11:42 PM

Tiger sophomore Jeremiah Martin has been among the most sure-handed point guards in the country this season. He entered Tuesday night's game at FedExForum with only 17 turnovers in 296 minutes of game action. But with his team down a point with less than ten seconds to play, Martin — tightly guarded along the left sideline — lost control of his footing and dribble, giving Monmouth the ball with a solitary second left on the game clock. Two Je'lon Hornbeak free throws later and Memphis had its first home loss of the season, falling to 7-3 overall. The Hawks — expected to be contenders for the MAAC crown — improved to 9-2 and have now won eight straight.

"We probably should have called timeout and set something else up," acknowledged Memphis coach Tubby Smith after the game. "We were trying to set up a pick and roll with Dedric [Lawson], maybe a lob or a bounce pass."
Jeremiah Martin - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jeremiah Martin

Smith was quick to point out that the final play was merely one instance in which his team was outplayed. "They did a good job of confusing us. They showed us some zone, then man-to-man. They're quick enough on the perimeter that they can do that and recover pretty well." Hornbeak and undersized point guard Justin Robinson each had 21 points for the Hawks, Hornbeak hitting six of seven attempts from three-point range.

The Tigers led by 10 (45-35) at halftime, Dedric Lawson showing the way with 10 points and 10 rebounds in the game's first 20 minutes. (Lawson's 25th career double-double ties him for 10th in Memphis history.) His three-pointer with 12:35 to play gave Memphis a 60-53 lead.

Over the game's next four minutes, though, the Hawks enjoyed a 15-7 run to take the lead, Austin Tilghman completing the run with a three-point play for a 68-67 Monmouth advantage.

Martin converted a three-point play of his own with 2:03 left on the clock to tie the score at 77. After Monmouth converted a free throw, Markel Crawford hit a layup to give the Tigers a 79-78 lead. The Hawks turned the ball over on the ensuing possession, but the Tigers gave it right back on an inbounds play near the end of the shot clock.

Robinson attacked the lane and drew a foul on Dedric Lawson with 14.2 seconds left. He hit both free throws to put Monmouth back on top, 80-79, setting up the final mishandled possession for Martin and the Tigers.

"They had a bunch of second-chance points [in the second half], and that really hurt us," said Smith. "We didn't box out on the weak side, and they were beating us off the dribble a lot. The post player has to help. That's where we started to lose momentum. They made some open shots, and made a nice backdoor play that caught us. We were tensing up. And we missed some open shots. When you don't match a team that's offensive-oriented like this . . . that hurts." Monmouth has scored at least 76 points in all eights games of its winning streak.

After falling two blocks shy of the fourth triple-double in Tiger history Saturday against UAB, Dedric Lawson came up just three assists shy of the achievement Tuesday night, adding 18 points and 14 rebounds. Martin matched his career-high 14 points, K.J. Lawson added 13, and Crawford 12. For the second game in a row, the quartet all played at least 36 minutes. Center Chad Rykhoek added a season-high 12 points in 18 minutes of action. Memphis shot 47 percent from the field but missed 11 of 32 free throws.

The Tigers travel to Oklahoma Saturday to face the Sooners of the Big 12. They return to FedExForum next Wednesday to host Incarnate Word of the Southland Conference.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Tigers 62, UAB 55

Posted By on Sat, Dec 10, 2016 at 3:23 PM

It felt like the Tiger basketball season began Saturday afternoon at FedExForum.

Playing in front of their biggest — certainly their loudest — crowd of the season (announced attendance: 9,424), the Tigers erased a nine-point deficit over the last 17 minutes against an old rival they hadn't seen in more than three years. "We needed every person screaming and hollering," said Memphis coach Tubby Smith after his team improved to 7-2 for the season. "That's the kind of crowd we need."
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dedric Lawson

Sophomore forward Dedric Lawson played like the All-America candidate he's becoming, scoring 24 points, pulling down 10 rebounds, and blocking eight shots. The younger of the team's Lawson brothers came within two blocks of the program's fourth triple-double and merely one block of the Tigers' single-game record of nine (held by Keith Lee and David Vaughn). Better yet, Lawson avoided foul trouble against the physical UAB front line of Chris Cokley and William Lee, not being whistled until more than 13 minutes had expired in the second half. When asked how a player blocks eight shots without committing fouls, Lawson emphasized his approach from the weak side, and his ability to time a block attempt for after the ball has left a shooter's hands.

The Blazers (now 5-5) led 29-25 at halftime and extended their lead to 36-27 over the first three minutes of the second half. But the Tigers managed a few consecutive defensive stops, allowing them to begin a lengthy run that swung the score by 16 points in their favor. Freshman swingman K.J. Lawson gave Memphis its first lead of the half (48-46) with a short jump-hook at the 8:05 mark.

A two-minute sequence that began with just under six minutes to play swung the game the Tigers' way for good. Dedric Lawson converted a driving layup for a 52-49 lead and the Tigers forced a 10-second violation upon the Blazers' inbounding the ball. Junior guard Markel Crawford converted a layup (54-49) and Dedric Lawson blocked a UAB attempt, then followed with a jumper from the right elbow for a seven-point Tiger cushion. UAB never again closed within five points.

Crawford finished the game with 16 points and was one of four Tigers (also Jeremiah Martin and the Lawson brothers) to play at least 37 minutes. "We gotta do what we have to do to win," said Smith. "These guys are playing well together. We need to get some more out of Chad [Rykhoek], Craig [Randall], and Christian [Kessee]. When we get guys in there, though, they need to be productive."

The Tigers managed to outscore a bigger team in the paint (40-28) and contributed only eight turnovers (with 14 assists on 22 field goals). Cokley led UAB with 16 points, but the Blazers shot merely 35.7 percent for the game. Memphis converted 39.3 percent from the field. Both teams were a woeful two for 12 from three-point range.

The win is the Tigers' 16th straight over the program founded by former Tiger coach Gene Bartow. The teams will meet again next season in Birmingham. UAB is among the favorites this season in Conference USA. For the Tigers' current players, it was their first taste of a regional rivalry. But Crawford recognized a difference: "It's as loud as it's been in here in a long time, so thanks to Tiger Nation for coming out."

The U of M returns to action Tuesday night when Monmouth visits FedExForum. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Ole Miss 85, Tigers 77

Posted By on Sat, Dec 3, 2016 at 2:24 PM

The Tigers traveled to Oxford, Mississippi, Saturday for their first true road test of the season. Forced to play much of the game without star forward Dedric Lawson — limited to 22 minutes by foul trouble — the U of M took the lead midway through the second half, only to surrender the contest on a 17-1 Rebel run fueled by free throws.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy
  • Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy

Memphis trailed throughout the first half when both Dedric and K.J. Lawson were forced to the bench with two fouls. A Markel Crawford three-pointer helped the Tigers close within one (27-26) with just over eight minutes to play in the half, but Ole Miss enjoyed a 10-run before Cullen Neal drained a trey to give Ole Miss a 47-37 lead at the break.

Even with Dedric Lawson sidelined, Memphis exploded in the second half, turning a 14-point deficit into a  5-point lead with a 24-5 run. A steal and dunk by Crawford gave the Tigers their first lead of the game (58-57) with just over 11 minutes to play. The lead grew to 68-64 before the Rebels took over for good. Five straight free throws gave Ole Miss a 70-68 lead and the U of M would get no closer. Both teams are now 6-2 for the season.

K.J. Lawson led Memphis with 17 points, Crawford added 16, and Jeremiah Martin had 14. Sebastian Saiz paced the Rebels with 20 points.

The Tigers will have a week off before returning to play next Saturday. Longtime rival UAB returns to FedExForum for a noon tip-off. The teams have not played since Memphis left Conference USA for the American Athletic Conference after the 2012-13 season.

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