Saturday, February 6, 2016

Tigers 63, Cincinnati 59

Posted By on Sat, Feb 6, 2016 at 5:59 PM

Thirty-nine hours after their most dispiriting loss of the season, the Tigers secured their biggest win to date. With double-doubles from Shaq Goodwin and Dedric Lawson (each had 20 points and 11 rebounds), the U of M never trailed Cincinnati and avoided what would have been the first three-game losing streak in seven years under coach Josh Pastner. Junior guard Avery Woodson drained a three-pointer from the right wing after the Bearcats' Troy Caupain had closed the Memphis lead to one with 1:45 left in the game. He and Ricky Tarrant Jr. combined to hit four free throws in the game's final 15 seconds to lock up the victory. And the win couldn't be more of a relief, particularly for Pastner.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dedric Lawson

"We just needed to start fresh," said Pastner, who spent almost the entire game seated in his chair on the Memphis bench. "Nine-game [regular] season, let's see how it goes. No regrets. Let's leave it on the floor, have fun, have toughness. New day, new season. Let the chips fall where they fall. We had a good practice yesterday, and a good team meeting. The guys responded. All credit goes to the players. That's not an easy situation to play in: two-game losing streak, tons of negativity, and a quick turnaround against a very good Cincinnati team."

Among the players who responded with the greatest impact was swingman Trahson Burrell, back in the rotation after a one-game disciplinary suspension. Burrell contributed nine points, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals, and a block . . . and could have played better (he missed 11 of 14 attempts from the field). He exuded the positive energy his coach craves after the game. "I love Coach P," said Burrell. "He's looked out for me the last two years; helped me become a man."

Freshman Craig Randall made his first start for the Tigers (in place of Sam Craft). Pastner said he wanted to "get a look" at Randall in the interests of relieving the minutes load Tarrant has carried all season. Randall's only two points were the first two of the game. He delivered a pair of assists in 12 minutes on the floor. (Tarrant only took one shot from the field and played just 18 minutes.)

Similar to Thursday night against Connecticut, the Tigers played much better in the first half than they did in the second. But their halftime lead today (15 points) proved to be just enough for the win, despite only six field goals made in the second half. Memphis outrebounded the Bearcats, 49-38, and made 18 of 24 free throws. The Tigers committed 13 turnovers, seven fewer than in the loss to the Huskies.

Memphis improves to 14-9 for the season and 5-5 in the American Athletic Conference, while Cincinnati falls to 17-7 (7-4). The Tigers and Bearcats have split their two meetings each of the last two seasons. Caupain led Cincinnati with 17 points and Gary Clark added 15.

The U of M hits the road for its next two games, at Houston (Wednesday) and at Tulane (next Saturday).

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Connecticut 77, Tigers 57

Posted By on Thu, Feb 4, 2016 at 11:24 PM

The fans hit the exits with six minutes to go,
Their favorite team's season having hit a new low.

A day after Memphis lost one of its favorite Tigers — broadcaster and poet, Jack Eaton — the current group of basketball players continued its downward spiral with the worst 20 minutes seen at FedExForum this winter. The U of M took the floor after halftime with a one-point lead (37-36) and proceeded to make a total of four field goals the rest of the game. Over the first 10 minutes of the second period, the UConn Huskies took 22 shots (and made 10), while the Tigers committed seven turnovers and took all of five shots. That one-point advantage turned into a 13-point deficit (59-46), and the gap only grew as the arena emptied and the clock — slowly — wound to zero.

"They really stepped on the gas," said senior forward Shaq Goodwin. "And we couldn't catch up to them. Effort plays and execution." Tonight the Tigers had neither after halftime.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Avery Woodson

Huskies forward Daniel Hamilton scored 16 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, and handed out eight assists in helping his team sweep the season series from Memphis. UConn improves to 16-6 (6-3 in the American Athletic Conference), while the Tigers fall to 13-9 (4-5). The Huskies took a total of 71 shots for the game (making 32), while Memphis was merely 16 for 41 from the field (4 for 16 after halftime). The Tigers committed a season-high 20 turnovers and were outscored 54-24 in the paint.

Tiger coach Josh Pastner described his team's second-half play as "lethargic" and emphasized that his team will not win games without the trio of Goodwin, Dedric Lawson, and Ricky Tarrant Jr. playing well. Goodwin was held to eight points and six rebounds in 33 minutes; Lawson scored six points and committed the same number of turnovers; and Tarrant committed five turnovers and missed eight of 18 free-throw attempts after entering the game shooting 86 percent from the line. Overall, the Tigers were 21 for 36 from the charity stripe.

"We just didn't start well [in the second half]," said Pastner. "It's one of those things. We couldn't get our big three guys going. I thought we were a little slow offensively, plus the turnovers really, really hurt us."

Senior forward Trahson Burrell dressed for the game and sat on the Tiger bench but did not play for disciplinary reasons. Pastner said Burrell will be reinstated Friday.

When asked if he heard the booing from the crowd that remained at the end of the game, Pastner said, "This is high-major college basketball. It's not intramurals. That's part of it."

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

2016 Memphis Tigers Football Signing Class

Posted By on Wed, Feb 3, 2016 at 12:04 PM

Rookie coach Mike Norvell has hit what he considers a home run with his first Memphis signing class. Eight players on the defensive side of the ball, ten on offense (including eight at the skill positions).

Nehemiah Augustus — linebacker (6-0, 205), Patterson, LA

Jahod Booker — wide receiver (5-11, 185), Montgomery, AL  
Jonathan Cook — safety (6-0, 198), Daphne, AL  

Sean Dykes — wide receiver (6-1, 210), Manvel, TX  

Riley Ferguson
 — quarterback (6-4, 190), Matthews, NC  
Jacobi Francis — cornerback (5-9, 160), Covington, GA  
Harneet Gill — offensive line (6-7, 265), St. Charles, MO  

Tim Hart — linebacker (6-1, 220), Memphis, TN (MUS)  
Darrell Henderson — running back (5-9, 175), Batesville, MS  
Hunter Hill — wide receiver (5-11, 184), Memphis, TN (Briarcrest)  
Bryce Huff — linebacker (6-3, 245), Mobile, AL  

Jocelee "Lio" Lafaele — offensive line (6-4, 290), Corona, CA        

Tyrez Lindsey — safety (6-2, 187), Dothan, AL       

David Moore — quarterback (6-2, 185), Alpharetta, GA  
Thomas Pickens — safety (6-4, 258), Memphis, TN (MUS)  
Patrick Taylor, Jr. — running back (6-3, 216), Humble, TX    
John Tate — defensive end (6-4, 258), Pine Bluff, AR  
Pop Williams — wide receiver (5-9, 165), Destrehan, LA   

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Ides of February

This is the month that will define the Tigers' season — and their coach's future.

Posted By on Mon, Feb 1, 2016 at 9:22 AM

The games must be played. However uncomfortable the next six weeks may become for the Memphis Tigers and their beleaguered head coach, at least 11 games remain on the schedule (counting at least one in the American Athletic Conference tournament). As of this writing, the Tigers are 13-8 with a 4-4 mark that has them tied for seventh place in the 11-team AAC. If the empty seats at FedExForum and calls for Josh Pastner's job have been unsettling to this point, just wait for the reaction to a nosedive — if a nosedive occurs — while 68 other programs book tickets for next month's Big Dance.

Last Saturday's loss at SMU can be viewed one of two ways. Glass half full: The Mustangs are a tier above every other team in the AAC (as the standings indicate), making a loss — even a blowout — on the team's home floor nothing worthy of teeth-grinding. Glass half empty: The dramatic gap in talent between the SMU roster and the one at Pasner's disposal accentuates how far this program has fallen, and how large the gap has become between reality as a Memphis Tiger and the dreams of a Sweet 16 (let alone Final Four) appearance.
Shaq Goodwin: "We'll man up." - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Shaq Goodwin: "We'll man up."

Forget the Tigers' horrid record against ranked teams under Pastner. For now, the U of M program needs to find ways to merely beat its own league's elite: SMU, Connecticut, and Cincinnati. Since moving to the AAC from Conference USA in 2013, the Tigers are now 4-12 against this trio of league exemplars. You can't compete for national championships unless you can compete for your conference title. Which makes this week at FedExForum maybe the biggest two-game home stand of the 38-year-old Pastner's career. Sweep Connecticut (here Thursday) and Cincinnati (Saturday) and the Tigers will find themselves at worst tied in the loss column with the Huskies and Bearcats this time next week. Split these games or (teeth-grinding time) lose both, and we can consider the nosedive underway. This is the collateral effect of the home loss to East Carolina on January 24th. Memphis must knock off a team it's not expected to beat. One, at the very least.

Can the Tigers sweep this week's contests? So much must happen to counter what we've seen of late. Freshman star Dedric Lawson is averaging 14.4 points and 9.0 rebounds this season, but averaged 8.5 points and 6.0 boards in the Tigers' two narrow losses at UConn and Cincinnati last month. Lawson must make a difference against an AAC power before we can consider him truly among the best freshmen in Tiger history. Trahson Burrell must be the player who came an assist shy of a triple-double in the loss to ECU, and not the one who disappeared (eight points, two rebounds, no assists) at SMU. And the Tigers simply must find offensive support for their "Big Three" of Lawson, Shaq Goodwin, and Ricky Tarrant Jr. Two starters against the Mustangs — Sam Craft and Markel Crawford — failed to score. "Organizing" the team (Craft's specialty) and marking the opponent's top gun (Crawford's) are important, but Tiger opponents have taken to sagging on Lawson and Goodwin. Points must be generated elsewhere.

Surely the Tigers welcome turning a page on the calendar, having finished a 4-5 January highlighted only by the narrow win over Temple at home and a road beatdown of UCF. Pastner and his staff would be wise to erase (or hide) any indication of the January stumble-fest. Make February a season within a season. Take the two big games this week, then focus on winning four — if not five — of the remaining six. (SMU comes to town February 25th). Six wins this month would put the team on the cusp of 20 when we next turn the calendar to March where college basketball's elite are separated from the hoi polloi.

This team knows what's being said about its performances to date. "I've been here a while," said Goodwin after the Temple win, "and I know how they do Coach Pastner. My sophomore year, I asked him why, and he said, 'You gotta win. You gotta win big games.' We'll accept that. We'll man up on that. But we pay attention to it, and we'll get it right once we get on a winning streak."

If a winning streak is to happen for the 2015-16 Memphis Tigers it will start this month. Would it be enough to erase January, to lower the temperature on Josh Pastner's hot seat? Come Thursday night, we'll have some answers. 

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

#13 SMU 80, Tigers 68

Posted By on Sat, Jan 30, 2016 at 9:20 PM

No contest. The SMU Mustangs may be ineligible for postseason play this season, but they made clear the disparity between their talented roster and that of the Memphis Tigers Saturday night at Moody Coliseum in Dallas. Led by point guard Nic Moore (the favorite for American Athletic Conference Player of the Year scored 22 points), the Mustangs led by 11 points just nine minutes into the game and Memphis never closed within single digits.

The loss is a damaging opener to the hardest four-game stretch of the Tigers' season. Now 13-8 and 4-4 in the AAC, the U of M will face Connecticut (Thursday) and Cincinnati (Saturday) at home in what amounts to must-win games for any chance at a favorable seeding in the AAC tournament come March. The team's chances for an at-large NCAA tournament bid likely died last Sunday when East Carolina won its first league game at FedExForum.

The Tigers were held to 34-percent shooting (22 for 65) and missed 15 of 20 attempts from three-point range. SMU controlled the glass with 47 rebounds to the Tigers' 32.

Senior Shaq Goodwin led the Tigers with 18 points before fouling out late in the second half. Two Memphis starters — guards Sam Craft and Markel Crawford — failed to score, freshman forward Dedric Lawson missed seven of eight shots from the field (seven points, 12 rebounds), and Ricky Tarrant Jr. was held to 10 points before also fouling out. Freshman guard Jeremiah Martin contributed 11 points off the bench, his highest point total of the season.

Shake Milton scored 13 points for SMU with Sterling Brown and Ben Moore each adding 12. The Mustangs are now 19-1 for the season and in control atop the AAC standings with an 8-1 mark. SMU will visit FedExForum for a rematch on February 25th, by which time both teams may be playing solely for pride.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Tigers 97, UCF 86

Posted By on Tue, Jan 26, 2016 at 8:16 PM

Shaq Goodwin
  • Shaq Goodwin
Senior forward Shaq Goodwin established a new career-high in scoring — before halftime — and Memphis avoided its first three-game losing streak in 11 years. Despite being outsized by UCF's twin titans (Tacko Fall and Justin McBride), Goodwin scored 35 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and even handed out a career-high in assists (6) to lead the way in Orlando for the Tigers' first road victory of the season.

Two days after the most deflating loss of the season (to East Carolina at FedExForum), Tiger coach Josh Pastner replaced Markel Crawford in the starting lineup with senior swingman Trahson Burrell. After falling an assist shy of a triple-double against ECU, Burrell was limited to two points (one for seven from the field), but the Tigers had more than enough offensive firepower elsewhere. In addition to Goodwin's career night, junior guard Avery Woodson scored a season-high 19, including five three-pointers. Ricky Tarrant Jr. added 18 points and Dedric Lawson earned the eighth double-double of his freshman season (15 points and 12 rebounds).

As a team, the Tigers shot 50 percent from the field, but allowed the Knights to shoot 53 percent. The U of M hit a season-high 12 three-pointers, combined for 24 assists, and committed only eight turnovers. It was 40 minutes of productive basketball, twice the showing last Sunday against the Pirates.

Now 13-7 (4-3 in the American Athletic Conference), the Tigers will travel to Dallas Saturday to face 13th-ranked SMU (18-1). The game will open the toughest three-game stretch of the Tigers' season, with visits next week from Connecticut (February 4th) and Cincinnati (February 6th).

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

East Carolina 84, Tigers 83

Posted By on Sun, Jan 24, 2016 at 4:24 PM

"I didn't see this coming. I thought we were ready to go." Josh Pastner can only hope that Sunday afternoon represents the nadir in his seventh season as coach of the Memphis Tigers. In front of a typically sparse FedExForum crowd, Memphis fell to an East Carolina team that entered the contest 0-6 in American Athletic Conference competition and 0-7 in road games. Prince Williams hit two free throws with four seconds left on the clock, erasing the one-point lead Tiger forward Trahson Burrell had given Memphis five seconds earlier. (Burrell missed the first of his two free throws.) With the win the Pirates improve to 9-11 overall while Memphis falls to 12-7 (3-3 in the AAC). The loss is a damaging blow both to the Tigers' chances for a regular-season AAC championship and thoughts of an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament.

"I'm not going to say we took them lightly," said Burrell after the game. "But we weren't as up as if we were playing [top-ranked] Oklahoma again. It's natural to play to the level of your competition, but I wouldn't say we took them for granted. We came out in the first half very sluggish."
  • Larry Kuzniewski

"They shot 75 percent [six for eight] on threes in the first half," emphasized senior Shaq Goodwin, who finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds despite playing most of the second half in foul trouble. "You can say it came down to this play or that play, but really it comes down to us holding our principles as a team. You've got to forget the good and the bad. I'm gonna talk to the team and tell them to forget about what just happened; we can't go back. All we can do is prepare for UCF and get better."

The Tigers were indeed dreadful in the first half, allowing ECU to shoot 61 percent overall and take a 45-36 lead after 20 minutes. The team's top scorer and rebounder, freshman Dedric Lawson, had only four points at the break and not a single rebound. He hit nine of ten shots from the field in the second half and was central to the Tigers' comeback, finishing with a game-high 27 points (one more than the Pirates' B.J. Tyson). Lawson scored six points on consecutive possessions — a layup, free throw, and three-pointer — to give Memphis a 74-73 lead with six minutes left to play. Memphis would surrender the lead and take it back three times before the final sequence at the free-throw stripe won the game for ECU.

Burrell had his second consecutive strong game off the Tiger bench, finishing with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Senior guard Ricky Tarrant Jr. committed his fourth foul with 12:27 left and never re-entered the game. Pastner said he felt both Tarrant and Sam Craft fell short of expectations as floor leaders in the loss. Tarrant missed five of his six shots from the field while Craft scored 10 points in 24 minutes.

The Tigers committed 16 turnovers, their most in 10 games, leading to 25 points for the Pirates.

"A bad loss," stressed Pastner. "We were in quicksand the first 20 minutes of the game. They hit a bunch of threes. Markel Crawford cut a screen [early], and they hit a three for some confidence. They were on fire. I'm disappointed, but there's no time for self-pity or pointing fingers. We need to find a way to get a win Tuesday [at UCF]. The last two games, our perimeter defense has not been good. It's kicked our butt."

The Tigers' next two games will be on the road, Tuesday at UCF then next Saturday at SMU. (The Mustangs lost their first game of the season today at Temple.) They'll return to FedExForum to host Connecticut on February 4th.

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Cincinnati 76, Tigers 72

Posted By on Thu, Jan 21, 2016 at 8:12 PM

Playing just their third true road game of the season, Memphis displayed what appears to be its travel form: Relentless, counter-punching basketball . . . until a late-game fade hands the hosts a victory. The Tigers missed six of seven field-goal attempts late in Thursday night's game at Cincinnati, allowing the Bearcats to win their 14th game of the season and improve to 4-3 in American Athletic Conference play. Cincinnati guard Troy Caupain scored a career-high 25 points and Shaq Thomas added 18 to offset the Tiger bench tandem of Avery Woodson (18 points) and Trahson Burrell (24). Burrell hit four of seven three-point attempts and Woodson was five for eight from long range. Burrell also pulled down 11 rebounds and handed out five assists.

The loss drops the Tigers to 12-6 on the season and 3-2 in the AAC.

Freshman Dedric Lawson missed eight of nine attempts from the field (he finished with seven points) and senior point guard Ricky Tarrant Jr. was limited to two points (though he dished out nine assists). Shaq Goodwin contributed 13 points for the U of M.

As a team, Cincinnati shot 50 percent from the floor (30 for 60), the highest percentage Memphis has allowed this season. In another statistical anomaly, the Tigers shot only 16 free throws (they made 12), the fewest they've taken in a game this season. Their 10 three-pointers tied the team's season high.

Now 0-3 on the road, the Tigers return to FedExForum for a Sunday-afternoon matchup with East Carolina. Tipoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Memphis Tiger Basketball: Midseason Musing

Posted By on Mon, Jan 18, 2016 at 8:05 AM

Four thoughts on the Tigers' season as conference play heats up.

• When Ricky Tarrant Jr. stepped to the foul line last Wednesday against Temple, I thought of Darius Washington Jr. and the very same foul line, not quite 11 years ago. Washington, you may recall, went to the line with his team trailing Louisville by two points in the 2005 Conference USA championship game, time having expired. Having been fouled attempting a three-point shot, Washington had the chance to earn an unlikely NCAA tournament berth for Memphis. With the no players on either side of the lane for the shots, Washington made the first but missed the next two, falling to the FedExForum floor in a heap of misery. If you were there and had a heart, it was painful to witness.

Tarrant made his two shots. And with a mouth full of blood and three loose teeth. The shots beat a tough Temple bunch, many of whom remembered winning a nail-biter in the same building last season. And there really seemed to be little doubt the shots would hit their mark, Tarrant being this team's best free-throw shooter (86 percent) and, more and more it seems, its metaphorical backbone. A team — and a season — often has moments that flip the script. These Tigers have not beaten many talented teams. But they did last Wednesday, and with a late-game comeback that included their leader's ability to literally swallow blood and answer the bell. The challenge now, of course, is to make that moment the start of something big.
Sam Craft and Josh Pastner - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Sam Craft and Josh Pastner

The Sam Craft story is developing momentum. Less than three weeks after playing in the Birmingham Bowl for the Memphis football team, Craft started his first game at point guard for the Tigers (in the win over Temple). Now with two starts and a total of 54 minutes (over four games) under his belt, Craft has exactly zero turnovers. Pastner insists he believes in freshman point guard Jeremiah Martin, who started five games before Craft took over against Temple. But the coach described Craft's skill at "organizing our team" in making the decision to start the former (and presumably future) tailback. 

And there's this. "Bigs are hard to get," said Pastner after last Saturday's win over USF, "but for perimeter players, I believe in guys who have been around winning. I've really shifted toward that. And Sam's a winner. He won in high school [a 2011 state championship at Craigmont, where he was the state-tournament MVP], and he's won in football. That matters. He's a flat-out winner." In playing terms, Craft is a basketball freshman. In winning terms, he's a veteran. Consider this an intangible worth watching the remainder of the season.

How will these Tigers handle the road? It's really impossible to tell, the team having played 14 of 17 games to date at FedExForum. (What other sport includes this kind of home-cooking in drawing up a schedule? In seven years under coach Josh Pastner, the Tigers have played 66 road games, 30 on neutral courts, and a whopping 127 at home.) The Tigers have 14 more regular-season games, eight of them away from home, starting Thursday night in Cincinnati. Pastner's winning percentage at home is .842. His winning percentage in those 66 games with hostile fans: .576. The U of M went 5-5 on the road in each of its first two seasons in the American Athletic Conference. The Tigers lost their only two true road games this season, but played well at both South Carolina and Connecticut. Starting Thursday night in Ohio, we'll see if this group is worthy of NCAA tournament consideration. Another 5-5 season away from home won't do it.

• With seven double-doubles already, Dedric Lawson is well on his way to becoming just the third Tiger freshman to have ten such games. Keith Lee had 17 in 1981-82, a season that saw Memphis [State] go 24-5 and reach the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 a year after missing out on the Big Dance. Lorenzen Wright had 15 in 1994-95, a season that saw Memphis go 24-10 and reach the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 a year after missing out on the Big Dance. 

Can Lawson be the swing variable for another Memphis team trying to return to the only college basketball tournament that matters? He's currently averaging 14.5 points and 8.9 rebounds, not quite the numbers posted by Lee (18.3 and 11.0) and Wright (14.8 and 10.2) as rookies. But with Shaq Goodwin playing like a senior with McDonald's All-American on his resume (13.8 and 8.3), Tarrant in command of the offense, and role players like Avery Woodson and Trahson Burrell making a difference, Lawson can continue to quietly climb the Tiger freshman-record book. But he needs to register a few double-doubles against the AAC's best. Against UConn two weeks ago, Lawson had but 10 points and four rebounds in 36 minutes. This week's tilt in Cincinnati is the kind of game that measures a player's impact, freshman or otherwise.

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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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