Saturday, January 16, 2016

Tigers 71, USF 56

Posted By on Sat, Jan 16, 2016 at 2:27 PM

Josh Pastner knows his team won't break any shooting records. Since well before the current season opened two months ago, the Tiger coach has preached defense and ball protection. To win consistently, the 2015-16 Tigers must keep opponents from lighting up the scoreboard, and they must value every possession. Saturday at FedExForum may become the 40-minute prototype for the balance of the campaign.

The U of M held USF to 32 percent shooting and committed only three turnovers in beating the Bulls to improve to 12-5 (3-1 in American Athletic Conference play). Freshman forward Dedric Lawson earned his seventh double-double of the season (18 points and 12 rebounds) and the Tigers pulled away with a second-half sequence that featured two dunks each by Trahson Burrell and Shaq Goodwin. But if you're looking for a sign this team may be turning a corner, look at that turnover total. (The team's previous low was seven against Southern Miss in the season-opener.)
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Sam Craft

"You gotta give a lot of credit to Sam [Craft], the starting point guard," said Pastner. "And Ricky [Tarrant] played 34 minutes: three assists, no turnovers. He's had a total of 25 turnovers all year, and he's played a lot of minutes. But Shaq Goodwin and Dedric Lawson had no turnovers. Our biggest problem has been our bigs turning it over. We've got to take care of the ball Thursday [at Cincinnati]."

Craft started his second game less than a month after playing in the Birmingham Bowl for the Tigers' football team. The junior hit four of six shots from the field for nine points. And Tarrant played every second of the first half, three days after getting three teeth loosened in a late-game collision with a Temple opponent. He scored nine points and picked up a pair of steals.

Goodwin struggled against a big USF frontcourt in the first half, but rallied late in the game to finish with 13 points and six rebounds. Sophomore guard Markel Crawford twisted an ankle early in the second half and had to be helped to the Tigers' locker room, but he returned to the court not long after.

Angel Nunez led USF with 16 points and Jaleel Cousins grabbed 16 rebounds. The Bulls are now 3-16 and 0-6 in the AAC.

"We were knocking on the door," said Pastner, reflecting on the season to date. "I think we were actually able to get through the door against Temple. We needed that, a confidence boost. But we've got to keep it going. The one thing we haven't done well this season — in addition to shooting — is finish. Today, and this week, we finished strong."

Craft is becoming the season's most distinctive story line, having replaced Jeremiah Martin in the starting lineup without so much as practicing — basketball, that is — until January. "I feel myself getting better every day," said Craft. "I'm just listening to Coach Pastner, soaking in what he has to say. Like everything else, it takes time. I'll keep pushing forward."

The Tigers will next push forward against longtime rival Cincinnati (now 13-6, losers to Temple Saturday). The Tigers and Bearcats meet Thursday night in Ohio.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Tigers 67, Temple 65

Posted By on Wed, Jan 13, 2016 at 10:42 PM

Some nights you have to swallow the blood and make your free throws. Wednesday night at FedExForum, Tiger senior point guard Ricky Tarrant Jr. did just that — with the score tied and 1.5 seconds left on the clock — to give his team its biggest win of the season to date. Tarrant had collided with Temple's Daniel Dingle after receiving an inbounds pass from teammate Shaq Goodwin, a sequence that followed a bizarre game-tying play for Temple.

In retrieving an errant shot under the Temple basket — with Memphis leading, 65-63, and five seconds to play — Tiger swingman Trahson Burrell threw the ball back in play, but directly to Temple guard Josh Brown, who converted an easy layup to tie the score. (This is the same Josh Brown who beat the Tigers at the buzzer on the same court 11 months ago.) What followed could be a season-turning sequence, however bloody, for Memphis, now 11-5 for the season (2-1 in the American Athletic Conference).
Ricky Tarrant Jr. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Ricky Tarrant Jr.

"I think the MVP was [trainer] Brad Anderson," said Tiger coach Josh Pastner. "Ricky's mouth was full of blood. His teeth were all over the place. But I told Brad, 'I don't care what you do; he's shooting those free throws.' All he had to do is make one. [Anderson] put a towel up there and it was soaked with blood. The refs saw the blood coming down his mouth and said we had to get someone else [to shoot]. I said, 'Baloney. He's fine.' So Ricky took a big gulp, drank all of his blood, licked his lips. And he shot the free throws."

The game-winning free throws completed a sequence over the game's final 1:37 in which Memphis made eight of ten shots from the foul line to erase a 63-59 deficit. An 88-percent free-throw shooter this season, Tarrant made four of five in the stretch and six of eight for the game to finish with 13 points in 37 minutes on the floor. Overall, Memphis hit 23 of 30 free throws while Temple only took nine shots (and made five) from the charity stripe.

"We were due to get a break our way," said Pastner. "One thing about this team is they fight, they scrap, they claw. They get on the floor. They're not perfect, but they represent Memphis the right way. They're blue-collar. I hope the fans can appreciate this team, this year. It doesn't mean we'll win every game, but we're gonna leave it on the floor."

The Tigers committed 12 turnovers in the first half, helping Temple take a 37-31 lead after 20 minutes. But they protected the ball in the second half (just two turnovers) and countered just when the Owls seemed to extend their lead comfortably. A 6-0 run (helped by a technical foul called on Burrell) gave Temple a 58-52 lead with 6:24 left. But Markel Crawford pulled down an offensive rebound and dunked, then Dedric Lawson drained a three-pointer from the left wing to keep the Tigers close enough for the late free throws to matter. Lawson finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season.

Senior forward Shaq Goodwin embodied the Tigers' effort with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and four blocks in 38 minutes. His postgame smile seemed like one of relief. "They got us in a nail-biter last year," said Goodwin. "It's just good to see this team get a ball bounce our way. Everybody chipped in and worked. A special thank you to Ricky Tarrant. He could have easily gone to the sideline, or back to the training room. But he got up there and knocked down not one of them, but both of them."

Memphis held Temple to 37 percent from the field and forced 13 turnovers against a team that averages only nine per game. The Tigers shot only 36 percent from the field themselves and had two more turnovers (14) than assists (12). Call it an ugly win. A bloody win even. But at the regular season's precise midpoint, any win for Josh Pastner's Memphis Tigers looks lovely in reflection.

The Tigers host USF at FedExForum this Saturday (tipoff at 11 a.m.).

Saturday, January 9, 2016

#23 Connecticut 81, Tigers 78

Posted By on Sat, Jan 9, 2016 at 8:33 PM

For the second straight Saturday, the Tigers battled a Top-25 team to the final minutes on the road. And for the second straight Saturday, they came up short. Tonight in Storrs, Connecticut, Avery Woodson gave Memphis a 75-74 lead with a three-pointer from the left corner with 51 seconds to play. But the Huskies drew fouls on their next two possessions and made all four free throws (two by Sterling Gibbs and two by Daniel Hamilton). Trahson Burrell missed a jumper and Woodson missed a three-point attempt that would have tied the score at 78. A desperation heave by Dedric Lawson missed its mark as time expired.

The loss drops Memphis to 10-5 for the season (1-1 in American Athletic Conference play), while UConn improves to 11-4 (2-1).

Senior forward Shaq Goodwin picked up two fouls in the game's first four minutes and watched the rest of the first half from the Tiger bench. (This after serving a suspension and missing the Tigers' win over Nicholls State four days ago.) He dominated much of the second half and finished with 23 points before fouling out with just over a minute to play. Lawson also battled foul trouble, finishing with 10 points but making only four of 13 attempts from the field.

Gibbs led the way for UConn with 26 points, draining five of seven shots from long range. Rodney Purvis added 13 and Hamilton 12. As a team, the Huskies hit nine of 19 three-pointers (47 percent) and shot 43 percent overall.

Ricky Tarrant Jr. scored 15 points for the Tigers and Burrell added 17 off the bench. The Tigers kept in the game by hitting 84 percent of their free throws (26 for 31) and winning the rebound battle, 32-26. The case could be made the Tigers' three most impressive outings this season have been losses, against Oklahoma, South Carolina, and now the Huskies.

The Tigers return to FedExForum Wednesday night to host Temple and will host USF next Saturday.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Tigers 82, Nicholls State 46

Posted By on Tue, Jan 5, 2016 at 10:05 PM

Exhibition season returned to FedExForum Tuesday night. After spotting Nicholls State a 16-11 lead, Memphis outscored the Colonels 39-5 over a 12-minute stretch to secure the game by halftime. Ironically enough, the 36-point win may represent the low point of the Tigers' season, if not the entire seven-year era under coach Josh Pastner.

During a week college basketball has emerged from the shadow of its more popular gridiron competition, roughly 7,000 fans chose to spend two hours of their week with the U of M basketball team. Three days after the Tigers fought gallantly against undefeated South Carolina on the road, they played a team that has somehow won four of its 15 games, but would face stiff competition in the opponent Memphis actually hosted in an exhibition game last November (LeMoyne-Owen). (39-5 runs don't happen against competent Division I basketball teams.)
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dedric Lawson

Announced attendance for the game was 10,290, the lowest figure among the Tigers' 12 home games to date. (Only twice has a crowd larger than 12,000 been announced, one of those with Ole Miss in the building.) The Tigers' senior leader, Shaq Goodwin, served a one-game suspension for tripping an opposing player (from the Tiger bench) in the loss at South Carolina, proving Goodwin at least knows his team's schedule well. As for his leadership qualities . . . . 

Freshman Nick Marshall started in place of Goodwin and contributed 12 points and six rebounds in 23 minutes. Four more Tigers reached double figures in the scoring column: Avery Woodson (15 points), Ricky Tarrant Jr. (12), Dedric Lawson (12), and Trahson Burrell (12).

The small crowd's most vibrant cheers came late in the first half when Sam Craft made his college basketball debut. The junior tailback for the Memphis football team converted a second-half layup and three-pointer in his first official action on the hardwood since his days as a two-sport star at Craigmont High School.

"It's like a dream come true," said Craft. "It felt good to be back out there. I was nervous. Every game I play, football or basketball, I'm nervous. But you shake off the jitters and just try and play basketball."

"This is how teams are really made," said Marshall, creating a positive spin on the one-sided affair. "It's not so tight. We actually get to have fun out there. It was nice to see everybody smiling and everybody get [on the floor], especially Sam." Late in the game, the Tiger lineup featured a scholarship baseball player (Caleb Wallingford) and football player (Craft) matching up against the Colonels. Not the kind of thing you see in a typical January college hoops clash.

Come Saturday, conference play is here for good. No more child's play. (If you didn't see any of the Kansas- Oklahoma game Monday night, enjoy the highlights. It doesn't have to be this way.) The Tigers, now 10-4, travel to Connecticut to face the Huskies. When they return on January 13th, Temple will be on the other bench. Football and baseball players beware.

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Saturday, January 2, 2016

#24 South Carolina 86, Tigers 76

Posted By on Sat, Jan 2, 2016 at 7:54 PM

Playing their first true road game of the season, the Tigers traded the lead 13 times with South Carolina — one of three remaining undefeated teams in the country — before fading over the game's final two minutes. Nursing an abdominal strain that kept him out of last Tuesday's win over Tulane, Tiger freshman Dedric Lawson missed a three-point attempt that would have tied the game at 76 with 1:20 left to play. Twenty seconds later, Lawson became the third of four Tigers to foul out over the game's final five minutes.

Sindarius Thornwell
  • Sindarius Thornwell
Sindarius Thornwell scored 18 points and Michael Carrera added 16 points and 11 rebounds to help the Gamecocks improve to 13-0, the program's best start in more than 80 years. (The Tigers lost to one of the other two still-standing undefeated teams, Oklahoma, in November. Memphis plays the third, SMU, on January 30th and February 25th.) The victory was South Carolina's first over the Tigers since the teams were both members of the Metro Conference in 1989.

With a total of 68 fouls called, the game had the flow of a bike ride down Memphis's riverside cobblestones. The Gamecocks hit 46 free throws, while the Tigers converted 30 of 36 shots from the charity stripe. They both shot miserably from the floor, Memphis making only 19 field goals (32 percent) and South Carolina 18 (32 percent). The 41 fouls charged against the Tigers are the most in the program's history. In addition to Dedric Lawson, Markel Crawford, Shaq Goodwin, and Trahson Burrell fouled out of the game.

Ricky Tarrant Jr. led the U of M with 20 points. Avery Woodson came off the bench and hit three shots from long distance on his way to 14 points. Goodwin scored 13 and led the Tigers with nine rebounds before committing his fifth foul with 4:02 to play (and Memphis down, 71-68). Freshman point guard Jeremiah Martin added 10 points.

The Tigers fall to 9-4 and can claim their two best outings were losses, to Oklahoma at FedExForum and tonight in Columbia. They return home Tuesday night to host Nicholls State before returning to American Athletic Conference play for good.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Birmingham Bowl: Auburn 31, Memphis 10

Posted By on Wed, Dec 30, 2015 at 2:19 PM

A Memphis season that began with a record-setting eight-game winning streak and rise to a ranking of 15th in the country came to a close with a thud this afternoon at Legion Field in Birmingham. Jeremy Johnson relieved an ineffective Sean White at quarterback for Auburn and tossed the go-ahead touchdown pass to Jason Smith with 3:12 to play in the third quarter. Johnson carried the ball himself for a five-yard score on Auburn's next possession to put the game out of reach on a day the Memphis offense had no fuel.

Auburn essentially doubled the U of M's output, gaining 403 yards to the blue-clad Tigers' 203. Jovon Robinson rushed for 122 yards to lead the winners' attack.

Auburn completes the season with a record of 7-6, while Memphis ends with a mark of 9-4. The U of M has not beaten an SEC team besides Ole Miss since upsetting Tennessee in 1996. The Memphis loss drops the American Athletic Conference to 1-6 in bowl play this month. (Houston will play Florida State Friday in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta.)

Offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey fulfilled his one-game duty as interim coach while the U of M's newly hired Mike Norvell watched from the coaches box. (Norvell was hired on December 4th to succeed Justin Fuente, who departed for Virginia Tech.) There was some question about how Memphis would perform without Fuente on the sideline, but no question about the team's chances should junior quarterback Paxton Lynch not play to the standards that have him projected by many as a first-round pick in next April's NFL draft. Lynch was unable to solve the Auburn defense, completing only 16 of 37 passes (106 yards) and tossing an interception in the end zone on the U of M's opening drive of the second half, when the score was knotted at 10.

The highlight of the game for Memphis was an interception returned 52 yards for a touchdown by free safety Reggis Ball to tie the score in the second quarter. The play — Ball's second interception of the game — occurred shortly after second-team All-America kicker Jake Elliott had a field-goal attempt blocked. Elliott connected on a 53-yarder earlier in the game, tying the Memphis record for field goals in a season with 23.

The loss puts a bow on the four-year Fuente era, with 19 wins over the last two seasons the highest two-year total in the history of the program. Lynch has likely played his last college game, as have the likes of Ball, tight end Alan Cross, receiver Mose Frazier, and linebacker Leonard Pegues. Norvell will be tasked with a new challenge for the Memphis football program: living up to the standard of his predecessor.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Tigers 77, Tulane 65

Posted By on Tue, Dec 29, 2015 at 2:10 PM

Memphis won its American Athletic Conference opener Tuesday afternoon at FedExForum to improve to 9-3 on the season. Starting for the first time this season, senior Trahson Burrell led the Tigers with 21 points and 13 rebounds. Coming off the bench for the first time this season, senior forward Shaq Goodwin added 17 points and eight rebounds.

{image-1] Three Tigers who started the team's first 11 games were not on the floor at tipoff against the Green Wave. Freshman forward Dedric Lawson sat out the game with an abdominal strain, while Goodwin and guard Markel Crawford were held out of the starting lineup presumably for disciplinary reasons. (Crawford scored four points off the bench.) Freshman K.J. Lawson got his first college start and contributed 15 points and seven rebounds. Senior point guard Ricky Tarrant Jr. scored 16 points and led Memphis with six assists.

Malik Morgan led Tulane with 18 points. The Green Wave shot 35 percent in falling to 7-7 for the season.

The Tigers have won seven of eight games and will now hit the road for a big test Saturday at South Carolina. The 24th-ranked Gamecocks will likely be 12-0 entering the game (they face Francis Marion Wednesday).

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Tigers 84, IUPUI 48

Posted By on Tue, Dec 22, 2015 at 10:11 PM

Memphis made easy work of the Jaguars of IUPUI Tuesday night at FedExForum, the Tigers' final tune-up before conference play begins on December 29th. The visitors missed their first eight shots and the U of M had a 9-0 lead six minutes into the game. Back-to-back three pointers by Kedren Johnson and K.J. Lawson extended the lead to 15-2 and the margin only grew throughout the rest of the contest.

Tiger coach Josh Pastner utilized his entire bench, 11 of his players seeing at least 10 minutes on the floor. Pastner made the first change to his starting lineup in 11 games, replacing junior guard Avery Woodson with freshman guard Jeremiah Martin. The move seemed to benefit both players, Martin providing an energy booster at both ends of the floor and Woodson scoring a game-high 16 points while hitting four of six from three-point range.

"Jeremiah provided good energy," said Woodson, "getting us off to a good start. If that's what we need to win, then I'm all for it." It was just the third game (out of 43) in Woodson's two-season Tiger career that he came off the bench. Martin had five points, two assists, three steals, and three blocks in 22 minutes.

K.J. Lawson added 15 points off the bench in helping the Tigers to improve to 8-3 (IUPUI falls to 4-10). Freshman Nick Marshall played a season-high 13 minutes, scored eight points, and grabbed nine rebounds. Shaq Goodwin and Ricky Tarrant Jr. each added nine points. Memphis again enjoyed a steady parade to the free-throw line, hitting 20 of 26 (77 percent).

The Jaguars were held to 25-percent shooting and were led by Darell Combs with 15 points.

"Defensively, we were good from the tip," said Pastner. "The one thing [that bothers me] is the 12 offensive rebounds we allowed. We've got to do better than that. That's not on the bigs; that's on the perimeter guys not cracking back on rotations. Jeremiah brought great energy, and it triggered everybody else."

In measuring his team's growth, Pastner suggested the record could be better, but there remains room for improvement with the AAC opener (against Tulane) looming. "Before the last game [against Ole Miss], we were free throws away from being undefeated," he said. "I'd prefer to be 11-0. I think we're getting better. We've had two really bad halves of basketball, the first against UT-Arlington and the first against Ole Miss. Those bit us in the butt. We have to make that up. We've got some youth and we've got to clean up some things."

The Tigers will host the Green Wave next Tuesday then play a pair of nonconference games (against South Carolina and Nicholls State) before returning to league play for good.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Ole Miss 85, Tigers 79

Posted By on Sat, Dec 19, 2015 at 12:00 AM

We learned Friday night that it takes longer to ignite the Tiger offense than most of downtown Memphis. After a delay of just over an hour — due to a massive power outage — the Tigers missed 19 of their first 24 shots in falling behind by 17 against Ole Miss. They managed to close the margin to five (76-71), but not with enough time on the clock (1:53) to earn a sixth straight win. Led by Stefan Moody's 21 points (16 of them in the first half), the Rebels improved to 9-2 and are now riding a six-game winning streak. Native Memphian Martavious Newby added 12 points and 12 rebounds. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy described Newby as "like a damn tiger, pardon the pun" during the lengthy pregame delay.

"They punched us right in the mouth in the first half," said Memphis coach Josh Pastner. "We didn't match their physicality. In the second half, we competed, we played hard. I thought we punched them in the mouth. The issue — a recurring theme — is our start. It's on me to make a change. We're going to have to change things up. We've started the same way since [the opening game]. Our starts have not been good."
Ricky Tarrant Jr. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Ricky Tarrant Jr.

The Tigers shot a miserable 26 percent over the game's first 20 minutes and were down 12 at halftime only because a desperation three-pointer by Dedric Lawson — off a lengthy inbounds pass from Shaq Goodwin — found the net as time expired. The U of M outscored Ole Miss (48-42) in the second half and shot considerably better (42 percent), but finished the contest with more turnovers (15) than assists (13). The loss drops the Tigers to 7-3 with one game to play (next Tuesday against IUPUI) before their American Athletic Conference opener against Tulane (December 29).

"We'll learn from [this game]," said Goodwin. "We'll watch film Sunday and figure out what we need to do to get better." Goodwin battled his way to 15 rebounds but was held to seven points (1 of 4 from the field).

"We didn't come out with any energy," said senior guard Ricky Tarrant Jr., who finished with a game-high 29 points and hit five of seven three-pointers, including the shot that brought Memphis within five points late in the game. "Their physicality surprised us. Double-teaming Moody in the second half isn't what brought us back. It was our energy."

Lawson logged his fifth double-double of the season (21 points, 14 rebounds, 5 blocks) but the Tigers got only nine points off the bench, eight of them by Trahson Burrell. K.J. Lawson missed all six of his shots from the field and committed four fouls in 19 minutes on the floor. The Tigers' nine three pointers were one shy of the team's season high, but the 85 points Ole Miss scored are the most by a Memphis opponent this season.

"They hit some big shots," acknowledged Pastner, "some tough shots. Especially in the first half. But our starts . . . . We've tried every motivational tactic. We're going to have to  do something different."

The game was the first regular-season meeting between these regional rivals since December 2006 and one of two against SEC competition for the Tigers this season. Memphis travels to South Carolina to face the Gamecocks on January 2nd.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tigers 72, Southern 67

Posted By on Tue, Dec 15, 2015 at 10:30 PM

The Tigers finished Tuesday night's game on a 16-8 run, erasing a three-point deficit with just under seven minutes to play to earn their fifth straight win, matching the team's season high from the 2014-15 season. Southern center Jared Sam missed a free throw with 26 seconds left that would have tied the game at 68 and K.J. Lawson converted a driving layup from the left side with 17 seconds left to clinch the victory.

The older of the Tigers' two Lawson brothers scored a game-high 16 points off the bench and Trahson Burrell added 15 points and eight rebounds (also off the bench) to lead the way on a night senior Shaq Goodwin fouled out in only 14 minutes of playing time. Freshman forward Dedric Lawson earned his fourth double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Memphis improved to 7-2 on the season despite committing a season-high 19 turnovers.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dedric Lawson

Senior point guard Ricky Tarrant Jr. struggled from the field (3 for 10) but managed to score 11 points, grab six rebounds, dish out four assists, and earn four steals. He knew it was the Tiger bench, though, that decided this one. "It's something we expect [the reserves] to do," said Tarrant. "It's their mentality, to bring energy. They did a great job, picking up the pace of the game. Not just by scoring, but with defense and rebounding."

Led by Sam (26 points and 12 rebounds) and guard Adrian Rodgers (18 points), the Jaguars battled the Tigers to a tie at halftime (29-29) and led for more than 14 minutes of the game (there were 10 lead changes). But in addition to dominating bench play (Memphis outscored the Jaguar bench, 32-6), the Tigers got to the free-throw line 42 times and made 28, compared with a total of 16 free-throw attempts (12 made) by Southern.

"In the first half, we weren't taking our time," said K.J. Lawson. "We had some jitters. But in the second half, we took it to the goal; they couldn't stop it."

"Overall, it was a good win," said Tarrant. "They're a hard-nosed team. There are things we have to get better at on both the offensive and defensive end."

Asked about the Tigers' next opponent, Ole Miss (Friday night), K.J. Lawson all but shrugged his shoulders. "At the end of the day, it's just another game," he said. "We're gonna prepare for them just like we prepare for everybody else. We played Oklahoma . . . top 10. How did we prepare for them? We know the crowd will be there, and we'll be prepared to play. We just hope they're ready to play."

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Saturday, December 12, 2015

Tigers 89, Manhattan 57

Posted By on Sat, Dec 12, 2015 at 10:21 PM

For 20 minutes Saturday night, the Tigers looked like a team that hadn't played in a week. Facing the 1-6 Jaspers, Memphis players missed their first six shots from the field, allowed six three pointers (on 20 attempts) defensively, and trailed by two (38-36) at halftime.

"We stepped up defensively" after halftime, said Tiger guard Avery Woodson following the game. Indeed, the Tigers surged over the second half's first 14 minutes, outscoring Manhattan 34-8 to take a decisive 70-46 lead. Markel Crawford "played like an All-American" after "stinking" in the first half according to Memphis coach Josh Pastner. The sophomore from Melrose helped contain Jasper guard Rich Williams while scoring a career-high 16 points himself.

Tiger sixth man Trahson Burrell returned after missing the Tigers' last game with a hip pointer. He scored 13 points (all but three after halftime), grabbed eight rebounds, and handed out three assists in 21 minutes off the bench. "It was a little painful," he acknowledged, "but I can play through it." Burrell has scored at least 10 points in five of the seven games he's played this season.

Freshman forward Dedric Lawson led Memphis in scoring with 21 points (10 of 16 from the field) and pulled down eight rebounds. Senior Shaq Goodwin added 13 points and eight rebounds, though he struggled from the foul line, missing seven of 12 free throws. 

The Tigers held Manhattan to 19-percent shooting (4 for 21) after halftime and forced 15 turnovers. The win is the fourth straight for Memphis (6-2), one shy of the team's longest streak of the 2014-15 season.

"I was disappointed in our first half," said Pastner. "We stunk. The zone saved us, but then they started hitting some threes. Second half, Ricky Tarrant played like an All-American defender. Avery Woodson made some big-time fifty-fifty plays. K.J. Lawson did some good things; he just got in foul trouble. We guarded in the second half like we're supposed to for 40 minutes. We just did it for 20."

Is there a trend, these poor starts against weak competition? "When people play Memphis, it's their Super Bowl," emphasized Pastner. "With all the parity, it's about energy, about defense, playing hard. We didn't do that the first half. I put that on the upperclassmen, and that starting lineup. Only guy who has a little excuse is Dedric, and he should be a senior in high school."

The Tigers will play the second of four games in 11 days Tuesday night when Southern visits FedExForum.

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Monday, December 7, 2015

Memphis Tiger Hoops at the Quarter Pole

Posted By on Mon, Dec 7, 2015 at 10:25 AM

With seven games in the books, a quarter of the Tigers' 2015-16 regular season is almost behind them. They'll play four games in 11 days starting this Saturday, then open American Athletic Conference play against Tulane on December 29th at FedExForum. A few quick observations on Josh Pastner's seventh team as it continues to coalesce.

Dedric Lawson has filled a void, and then some. The precocious power forward could be playing his senior season in high school, remember. Instead, he scored 22 points and pulled down 15 rebounds in his second college game, against the 8th-ranked team in the country. (Those numbers were never achieved by one Austin Nichols.) Last Saturday against SEMO, with the Tiger bench shortened by injuries, Lawson scored 28 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in 38 minutes on the floor. His current averages of 15.9 points and 9.0 rebounds haven't been put up by a Memphis player since Chris Massie averaged 16.7 and 10.8 in 2002-03. Lots of season to play, and the competition gets stronger in January. But Dedric Lawson, as Pastner has said, "is a stud."

• As good as Lawson has been, the case could be made that Ricky Tarrant Jr. has been the Tigers' early-season MVP. This time last season, no one knew who the Tiger point guard was (or would be). Pookie Powell wanted the job. So did a desperately out-of-shape Kedren Johnson. Markel Crawford took some turns. There is no debate this season. Tarrant has met every standard Pastner and the Tiger staff could have envisioned for the Alabama graduate transfer. With Johnson nursing an injured shoulder and freshman Jeremiah Martin finding his sea legs, Tarrant has set the pace for a team that must push the ball offensively to win. He leads the team with 31.3 minutes per game and has dished out 28 assists with only eight turnovers (10 and 1 against SEMO last weekend). Tarrant is aggressive to the rim and makes his free throws (87 percent on 56 shots). Tiger fans will wish they had more than one season with him.
Ricky Tarrant Jr. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Ricky Tarrant Jr.

Shaq Goodwin is playing with urgency. Pastner likes to endorse Goodwin's "high motor." During his first three college seasons, that motor sputtered regularly. But the senior seems to know this will be the season his impact will make the most difference, on young teammates like the Lawson brothers, on the Tigers' standing in the AAC, and on any chances this team has of reaching the NCAA tournament. Goodwin's last three games (points and rebounds): 23 and 3, 18 and 12, 20 and 6. His averages (14.1 and 8.6) are significantly up from his career numbers entering the season (9.5 and 6.0). Not incidentally, Goodwin has seemed to be especially happy on the court (he smiles as easily as any Tiger in memory). "I need to make sure I enjoy [the season]," said Goodwin after the Louisiana Tech win on December 1st. "If I'm not, it's a cancer to the team, and it shows."

The Tiger bench is thin . . . but capable. Let's start with the positive: Trahson Burrell can be one of the finest sixth men in the country. His sheer athleticism and active play at either end give the Tigers a boost five or six minutes into a game. In six games (all off the bench), Burrell has averaged 23.3 minutes and scored or rebounded in double figures in five of the six games. Martin has shown signs of manning the point full time, perhaps as early as next season. And K.J. Lawson brings the energy you'd expect from someone known by too many as "the other Lawson." After those three, though, the Tiger rotation is lacking. The biggest man on the team, Nick Marshall, hasn't earned Pastner's confidence. Based on the coach's first six seasons, if a player isn't an established part of the rotation by the time conference play begins, he's unlikely to gain such status. Dedric Lawson and Goodwin are going to get into foul trouble. How will the reserves keep Memphis competitive in such scenarios? We don't have a complete answer, at least not yet.

There are too many empty seats at FedExForum. Over six home games, the Tigers have announced attendance (ticket sales) above 12,000 only once (the Oklahoma game). This after attendance dropped precipitously last season (average of 13,915 after 16,121 in 2013-14). It's an ugly contrast with the U of M football program, the latter having set attendance records at the Liberty Bowl this fall. Have basketball fans simply shifted their time, attention, and money to football? I don't think it's that simple. The Tigers need big wins, and they need a star. Dedric Lawson may fill the latter. As for big wins, would beating Ole Miss on December 18th count? What about South Carolina on January 2nd? The Tigers have six more home games before they travel to UConn to face the Huskies on January 9th, then just eight more games at FEF the rest of the season. For those of us who've been around the program for some time, the vacant sections of the home arena are uncomfortable statements on the condition of the program. Sponsors and boosters see these sections. When will they be filled again? 

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Saturday, December 5, 2015

Tigers 80, SEMO 65

Posted By on Sat, Dec 5, 2015 at 9:24 PM

The Tigers  overcame a lethargic first half tonight at FedExForum and beat winless Southeast Missouri State to improve to 5-2 on the season. Double-doubles by Dedric Lawson (28 points, 14 rebounds) and Ricky Tarrant Jr. (15 points, 10 assists) led the way as the U of M won its third straight game despite a considerably shortened bench.

Trahson Burrell (hip) and K.J. Lawson (Achilles heel) didn't play, forcing the Tigers' five starters to each play at least 30 minutes. No Memphis reserve played as many as 10 minutes, though senior Kedren Johnson made his season debut.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dedric Lawson

Now 0-7 for the season, the RedHawks traded punches early with the Tigers and had the score tied at 33 with just over a minute to play before  halftime. Not until Avery Woodson drained a three-pointer to give Memphis a 68-57 lead with 3:30 left in the game did the Tigers have what could be considered a comfortable advantage. Woodson scored 10 points and dished out six assists without committing a turnover.

Memphis coach Josh Pastner was pleased with his team's assist numbers (22 on 31 made field goals, and only 11 turnovers, but found areas for improvement. "We're gonna see more zone," he said, "and we're gonna have to put the ball in the basket. [The Tigers were three for 16 from long range.] It's good to get a win, but it will be nice to have a week off and clean up some things."

Lawson had six points and seven rebounds at halftime and credited his father, assistant coach Keelon Lawson, with spurring his dynamic (22 points) second half. "My dad got me at halftime," said Dedric after the game. "Gave me a little speech to motivate me."

"Dedric's a stud," said Pastner. "There's no doubt about it. If he played the game starting at [tipoff], he might have had 40 and 25. He didn't play well in the first seven or eight minutes. He's too good. For our team to be successful, he's got to be successful."

Senior Shaq Goodwin hit nine of 16 from the field and scored 20 points. "This is the third straight game Shaq's played at a high level," said Pastner. "He's got a great motor." He helped the Tigers dominate the inside game, outscoring SEMO 54-30 in the paint.

Marcus Wallace came off the bench to lead SEMO with 16 points.

The Tigers will have a week off now before returning to action next Saturday against Manhattan at FedExForum.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Norvell: "A day of destiny."

Posted By on Fri, Dec 4, 2015 at 5:52 PM

Six days after Justin Fuente coached his final game for the University of Memphis, Mike Norvell was introduced as the 24th head coach in Tiger history. Calling it "a day of destiny for me and my family," Norvell emphasized two primary components to this new marriage of coach and program: "fit and family." Here are some highlights from his introductory press conference this afternoon at the Hardaway Hall of Fame on the U of M campus.

I'd like to take a moment to thank Coach Fuente and the job he and his staff did. Even more, the support staff, the academic group we have. Everyone who works with and touches our student-athletes here. Because what I found here — why I'm standing in front of you today — is we have a culture of winning, in every area. Academically, socially, how we play this game. It makes me so proud and honored to stand before you today. Because now it's my job to help this program take the next step. This is the perfect time, and this is the perfect place.

There have been lots of opportunities in my career, places where I could have gone and led. But I was in such a great situation [at Arizona State], that it had to be right. It had to be all about the fit and all about the family. It took about two hours, sitting with the administrative staff here. There was no doubt. I'm excited about where we're going to go.

I've met so many people in a short period of time. There is one clear and concise vision. It's to win in every area, to win every day, to strive for perfection. I met with the team about 30 minutes ago. When I stood in front of them, I knew I'd made the right decision. I looked into their eyes. I saw the hunger. I saw the fire. We talked about one thing: to finish. What they began this year, and in the future. 

We're going to be about family, about core values. We're going to put a product on the field that you'll be proud of; how we play, how we go to school, how we are in the community. We'll build on the great successes we've already had.

We'll play fast, smart, and physical. We'll be passionate about finishing, in everything we do. And we're going to do it together, as a family, through adversity. It's gonna be about the finish, finishing on top.

This is home for me. I grew up in Dallas, Texas, I went to school in Arkansas, I've lived in Louisiana, I've been to Oklahoma. Talk about fit . . . you couldn't ask for a better place. We're gonna start recruiting from the inside out. 

It's gonna take all of us. Every alumni. Every student. All the administration. Every person in this great community. It will take all of us to take the next step. We're striving for daily excellence. We're going to go to work every day focusing on the details. We're going to make you proud. I'm so very excited to be the head coach at the University of Memphis. There are great days ahead.

What are the biggest challenges of being a head coach for the first time?

I've been an offensive coordinator, focusing on 50 guys in a group. We're gonna double that number. The biggest thing is time management. I'll give them everything I have. Being a head coach, there are a lot of external things asked of you, but I've been preparing for it. It's all about relationships. I'm excited about that challenge. Will I have all the answers on day one? No.

What exactly is your offensive philosophy and what do you want to do defensively?
We're gonna play fast. Multiple. Very, very aggressive. We're gonna attack on both sides of the ball. We'll be fundamentally sound. On offense, we'll take what the defense gives us. I believe in running the ball, and taking vertical shots down the field. Keep the opponent off-balance.

What makes you a good recruiter, and how do you sell this program to players?
Recruiting comes down to one thing: relationships. It wasn't hard for Tom [Bowen] to recruit me. There's one vision. We're here to impact kids. Every decision we make is for the betterment of our student-athletes. Film will not be the determining factor on whether or not we bring a young man here to play football. It will be the total package. We'll find out about their family, what makes them tick. We've got a lot of hands to shake, and a lot of research to do in a short amount of time. Our players will sell this program.

Is the University of Memphis a program where you can be long-term?
No question. When I looked at this opportunity, I saw a job with no limits. We can push this program to levels people in this room can't even imagine seeing. I'm going to put no limits on what we can do here. Continuity, commitment, all those things. I couldn't be more proud; this is going to be a special opportunity.

With Memphis being outside the Power 5 conferences, a lot of local talent goes elsewhere. How will you overcome that in recruiting?
It's the vision, the plan. Getting out there and building the relationships. There's nothing that cannot be accomplished here. I don't get caught up in stars and rankings. My job is to build the best football team, one that fits the standards of our program. There are a lot of players in this city who fit that plan. You have to show them the plan, the culture of the program. We're going to put our product, our brand in front of [players] nationwide, but we'll start right here.

Tigers Name Mike Norvell Football Coach

Posted By on Fri, Dec 4, 2015 at 9:53 AM

All of a sudden, Josh Pastner is the old man at the table.

The University of Memphis announced late Thursday that Mike Norvell — 34-year-old Mike Norvell — will succeed Justin Fuente as head coach of the Tiger football program. Norvell has spent the last four seasons as offensive coordinator at Arizona State under head coach Todd Graham. (The Sun Devils have gone 6-6 this season and await a bowl bid.) Norvell also served under Graham at Pitt (2011) and Tulsa (2007-10). He played wide receiver at Central Arkansas, catching more than 200 passes for more than 2,500 yards over his four years as a player.

Adam Rittenberg of had high praise for Norvell: "He should continue what Justin Fuente started, and his background would be perfect if Memphis eventually moves into a Power 5 like the Big 12."

The U of M will hold a press conference this afternoon (4:30) where the native of Irving, Texas, will be formally introduced. Highlights of the event will be posted at Tiger Blue.

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