Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tigers 62, Lipscomb 56

Posted By on Thu, Dec 20, 2012 at 10:25 PM

Can a six-point victory be more deflating than a nine-point loss? Five days after losing to sixth-ranked Louisville, the Tigers tested the riddle tonight at FedExForum with a listless win over a Lipscomb team that had lost by 34 to Belmont. And by 46 to Ole Miss. Sophomore forward Adonis Thomas returned to form with a game-high 18 points (and seven rebounds) and Geron Johnson followed a scoreless first half with 10 points in the second to help Memphis to its seventh win of the season. Just ditch the game tape.

"This was a clunker," said coach Josh Pastner after the game. "That wasn't our team out there. We're missing free throws left and right, we didn't have energy. But we found a way to win. There's no excuse for us to have an emotional letdown [after the Louisville game]." Which is to say, there was a noticeable emotional letdown for the home team.

Joe Jackson

The first half saw five lead changes, the Tigers forcing 16 turnovers but only able to score five points off the Bison miscues. A three-point halftime lead for the U of M was erased in the first two minutes of the second half and the game was tied at 41 with seven minutes left in the game. Lipscomb center Stephen Hurt threw his considerable weight around inside, scoring 15 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. His final field goal of the game drew the Bisons within four points (56-52) with 1:20 left in the game, but the margin wouldn't get any closer.

The crowd of 15,454 left the building with the kind of applause you might hear during first-round play of a golf tournament. "The energy level was low," said Tiger center Tarik Black, who scored only four points but led Memphis with nine rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench. "I'm not sure why. But it's not a light switch; you can't just turn it on."

Low energy often partners with diminished focus. The Tigers missed 18 of 39 free throws, dramatically off their rate of 72 percent entering the game. Shaq Goodwin and Black combined to make only five of 18 attempts.

"It was tight and tense early," said Thomas. "After all the turnovers [24] against Louisville. We gave them too many second-chance points. It was ugly. We've got to get out in transition, and we weren't able to do that."

The Tigers' high-flying, one-man energy booster — senior D.J. Stephens — was limited to nine minutes with various bumps and bruises. (He's on pace to set a single-season record for falls from a height of four feet or higher.) Junior guard Chris Crawford missed all six of his field-goal attempts (five of them from long range), but managed a career-high seven steals. Joe Jackson added 15 points and Goodwin had 11 points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes.

"Adonis has been working individually with Coach [Damon] Stoudamire," noted Pastner. "And intensely. It's helped him. As for Chris, I liked his body language. He's gotta make shots. He was wide open, and he has to take those. He's a shooter. It's a confidence thing."

The Tigers have eight days before Oral Roberts comes to town. Eight days to find a new (or misplaced) energy resource. For now — at 7-3 — a team enjoys Christmas break not all that sure what exactly it has under the tree.

"I believe we're really close to being great," emphasized Pastner. "But don't include this game. This was not us."

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Louisville 87, Tigers 78

Posted By on Sat, Dec 15, 2012 at 5:10 PM

The 6th-ranked Louisville Cardinals did what villains do. They stayed in the locker room for the pregame national anthem. They took the floor dressed, head to toe, in black. With hoods on. Then, after teasing a FedExForum crowd of 18,392 by falling behind 16 points, the Cardinals got nasty after halftime, forced 24 turnovers (two more than their average), and outscored the Tigers by 19 points over the game's final 12 minutes. Star guards Russ Smith and Peyton Siva each scored 19 points for Louisville and neither led the visitors in scoring (Chane Behanan had 22). The Cardinals made 38 of an astounding 46 free throw attempts to win a game in which they scored eight fewer field goals than their hosts.

"We didn't put a whole game together," said Tiger center Tarik Black, who scored 21 points in 22 minutes, but grabbed only two rebounds. "They're a great team, obviously. But they didn't do anything out there that made us lose the game. It was on us. When the refs start to control the game, it's tough to get into a rhythm. But that's on us."

Louisvilles Russ Smith

The officials did what they could to remind anyone watching that there was a third team on the floor. (It should be noted that Mike Stuart and John Cahill worked the Final Four last April.) A total of 53 fouls were called (33 of them on Tiger players), with five Tigers hit with two before halftime. By the end of the game, five Tigers had fouled out, the most damaging being Geron Johnson, who left the game with just over five minutes to play and the Tigers down, 65-60. (Johnson scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 27 minutes while helping to hold Louisville's Smith to three-for-eleven shooting from the field.)

Tiger coach Josh Pastner refused to comment on the officiating, citing Conference USA regulations, but acknowledged his substitution pattern became one of protecting his players in foul trouble, as opposed to strategic replacements or energy boosters. "Can you play man with Geron Johnson with four fouls?," he asked. "There's really no rhyme or reason. You don't want to take too many guys out in foul trouble, because you still want to win the game. They won because of two things: they made more free throws than we attempted [20] and they scored 29 points off our turnovers."

Memphis raced out to a 25-9 lead over the game's first 10 minutes, largely behind the elevated play of senior forward D.J. Stephens, who started for the first time this season. One sequence saw Stephens block a Cardinal's jump shot on the defensive end, then slam home an alley-oop from Chris Crawford at the other end for an 11-point Tiger lead. His three-pointer from the right corner gave the Tigers that 16-point lead, but with almost 30 minutes left to play in the game.

Tarik Black: One of 53 foul victims.

The Tigers scored the last six points of the first half to lead by seven (35-28) at halftime. When Johnson followed a three-pointer with a thunderous breakaway dunk (after stealing the ball from the Cardinals' Kevin Ware), Memphis led 54-44 not quite eight minutes into the second half. Over the next two-and-a-half minutes, though, Louisville scored 13 unanswered points, long-distance connections from Wayne Blackshear and Luke Hancock keying the run. After missing seven of eight three-point attempts in the first half, the Cardinals hit six of nine in the second.

Joe Jackson missed two free throws with the Tigers down six and 2:40 to play and Black missed single attempts with the Tigers down eight and five, respectively, in the game's waning minutes. Jackson scored a game-high 23 points and dished out a game-high eight assists, but also led both teams with eight turnovers. Memphis has now turned the ball over 47 times in its last two games.

Tiger sophomore Adonis Thomas returned to action after missing most of the team's last game with an eye injury. But he was not a factor, scoring four points and pulling down four rebounds in 33 minutes. In a game dripping with fouls, Thomas didn't take a single free throw.

"We need him to get going," said Pastner. "I want him to get aggressive. To drive the ball and get to the line, and rebound. He's gotta do it. Once he gets going . . . he's just gotta produce. We'll be a better team. He's gotta get it done, and he knows it, too."

The loss drops the Tigers' record to 6-3 and leaves them in the familiar position of having to claw their way toward a respectable NCAA seed (presuming a berth, of course) with no opponent of Louisville's caliber left on the schedule. Pastner must now motivate his team — and a rather large fan base — for three more home games before the new year: Lipscomb (next Thursday), Oral Roberts, and Loyola-Maryland.

"Defensively, we're a better team than we were last year," said Thomas. "And we have so many weapons on offense, we'll be okay. We've got to focus on rebounding, getting out in transition to score."

Added Jackson, "If we can get everything clicking for 40 minutes, we'll have a scary team."

That magic word: if.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tiger Football Home/Away Schedule for 2013

Posted By on Tue, Dec 11, 2012 at 11:00 AM

The Big East announced today which teams will be playing where next fall, when the league for the first time will feature 12 teams (in two divisions). Louisville and Rutgers will be members of the league one last season before departing for the ACC and Big Ten, respectively.

Memphis will be members of the Big East's West Division, along with Boise State, San Diego State, Temple, SMU, and Houston.

football_helmet.jpg

Here's a look at the teams the Tigers will face at home (and on the road) in 2013:

HOME
• Arkansas State
• Duke
• UT-Martin
• Cincinnati
• San Diego State
• SMU
• Temple

AWAY
• Middle Tennessee
• Boise State
• Houston
• Louisville
• USF

Monday, December 10, 2012

Louisville vs. Memphis: A Season's Tipping Point?

Posted By on Mon, Dec 10, 2012 at 7:00 AM

“If you hear anything about Louisville, give ’em the hand. I don’t want to hear anything.” That was Memphis coach Josh Pastner last Wednesday night, after his team’s 26-point beat down of the Ohio Bobcats at FedExForum. Pastner extended his right arm as he warned the media contingent about looking beyond the Tigers’ next opponent . . . Austin Peay.

With the Governors now safely out of the way (on the wrong end of an 83-65 score last Saturday afternoon), anyone remotely connected to the Memphis Tiger program can scream Louisville insults to their heart’s desire. For this Saturday’s tilt at FedExForum is what the smart analysts call a BIG GAME.

Fact is, the Tigers’ win over Ohio last week may be the biggest of Josh Pastner’s four-year coaching career. It may not have been a top-20 opponent, and may not have been a postseason affair, but it was certainly the program’s most needed win since Pastner took over before the 2009-10 season. The Bobcats came to town with credentials: a 6-1 record, a Sweet 16 appearance in last March’s NCAA tournament, and top-dog status in the MAC. Had the Tigers lost to Ohio, ironically, it would have been more acceptable than the lifeless defeats Memphis took (to VCU and Minnesota) in the Bahamas last month. More acceptable on paper. But a loss to the Bobcats would have reduced an already anxious fan base to that state of twitching in dark rooms, talking to oneself about what could have been . . . and what should be if this were changed, or that player were gone, or that coach were gone. A blowout win over that Ohio team? All’s well, at least until Louisville comes to town.

Josh Pastner

Seasons have tipping points. Last year, three days before Christmas, the Tigers lost at Georgetown, dropping their record to 6-5. A players-only meeting ensued, which may or may not have been the spark for a 20-3 run and a thorough sweep of three games to win the Conference USA tournament at FedExForum. Spark or not, that meeting was the season’s tipping point.

This season, the Tigers have played to a form growing too familiar to their legion of followers: beat up on lesser competition, but struggle when the big boys flex. VCU and Minnesota are sound programs, but neither can suit up three McDonald’s All-Americans. If the Tigers can’t impose their talents on the Rams or Gophers, what will happen if the road leads to Tar Heels, Hoosiers . . . or Cardinals?

This is not the 1980s. There is no Metro Conference, and Dana Kirk and Denny Crum will play no role in Saturday’s game at Third and Beale. But Louisville at Memphis still has a ring to it, wouldn’t you agree? The last time the Cardinals played at FedExForum (March 12, 2005) the teams played an epic C-USA championship game, Louisville winning by a point when Tiger guard Darius Washington —some would say tragically — missed a pair of free throws that cost Memphis an unlikely NCAA tournament berth. (To date, that remains the finest college game I’ve ever seen live.)

The seven years that have passed between visits from Louisville is the longest drought since the teams first played on January 6, 1949. And with the Cardinals’ pending move to the ACC — just as the Tiger program seemed to have chased them down in the Big East — games like Saturday’s are not a given, not “just another” important game as Pastner’s players are taught. A win over a top-five team that just happens to be the Memphis program’s Green Goblin (or Joker, Batman fans) would be this season’s tipping point.

A win means a return to the Top 25 for the Tigers. A win would be Pastner’s first in 11 games against ranked opponents. A win would be Pastner’s seventh (against 13 losses) against a team from one of the country’s six power conferences. Best of all, a win would become a calling card (pardon the pun) for this team’s legitimacy as not just an NCAA tournament participant, but also an NCAA tournament contender. If there are low points this winter — and there will be — Memphis players, coaches, and fans can all “Remember Louisville.”

Tipping points are made, not granted. When the ball goes up Saturday afternoon, Louisville in the way of the Tigers’ seventh win, Memphis players should lock onto that image of their coach, his right arm flexed and extended: “Give ’em the hand.”

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Tigers 83, Austin Peay 65

Posted By on Sat, Dec 8, 2012 at 3:16 PM

The Tigers started this afternoon's game as though breakfast hadn't quite settled. The Austin Peay Governors were the sharper team just after the noon tip-off, taking an 8-3 lead and holding a 10-8 advantage at the first media timeout, 4:16 into the contest.

Then Geron Johnson entered the game. Over a two minute stretch, the junior guard snatched a defensive rebound to start a fast break, delivered an alley-oop pass to D.J. Stephens for an emphatic dunk, and grabbed an offensive rebound that he converted into two points off the glass for a 16-10 Tiger lead. The game, for all intents and purposes, was already over.

"[Geron] always brings good energy, at the offensive and defensive ends," said freshman forward Shaq Goodwin, who was limited to four points but grabbed eight rebounds, dished out five assists and had four steals. Goodwin and Johnson connected for the play of the game early in the second half. Grabbing one of those steals, Goodwin lobbed the ball from well behind midcourt, over the head of Johnson as the junior guard sprinted the other way. The ball bounced within a few feet of the basket before Johnson grabbed it in midflight and softly delivered the ball off the glass and into the hoop.

Geron Johnson

The Johnson show also included a pair of steals — one in the Austin Peay backcourt, the other in the paint on the Tigers' defensive end — sandwiched around a dunk. His final stat line for the fifth game of his college career: 14 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 steals in 28 minutes off the bench.

"I'm comfortable, but there's a lot more work I can do," said Johnson after the game. "We should see some more things. In junior college, I turned the ball over too much. I had three tonight, and that's not good. It's all about ball pressure, and staying conditioned. Guarding Joe Jackson in practice . . . that's tough."

Junior center Tarik Black again came off the bench, now two games after a one-game suspension for violating team rules in practice. He led the home team with 18 points but uncharacteristically missed five field-goal attempts, including a few layups. Jackson scored 12 points, but had six of the Tigers' 23 turnovers. Antonio Barton added 10 points off the bench and senior D.J. Stephens brought his typical energy boost with 10 points and 9 rebounds in 18 minutes. Stephens blocked a shot so emphatically in the second half that the slap could be heard on press row. Overall, the Tiger bench outscored Austin Peay's, 57-7.

Memphis coach Josh Pastner emphasized that every win is a good win, but noted the turnovers and Austin Peay's field-goal percentage (50 percent from the field, 75 percent from three-point range) as worthy of concern. "We were trying to play so fast, [the turnovers] just happened," said Goodwin. "They weren't forced. We'll start working on that Monday."

"Our defensive intensity and pressure was really good," said Pastner. "We gotta take care of the ball better, though. There was really no flow to the game, up and down."

Pastner nodded to his team's most obvious energy source for a second straight game. "Geron's a high-motor guy," said the coach. "I'm wired as a human being; an energy giver. When I see guys wired like that, it gives me more pep in my step. It's contagious. It's a really positive thing."

The Tigers now have a full week to prepare for 5th-ranked Louisville, the program's preeminent historical rival. The Cardinals will play at FedExForum next Saturday for the first time in more than seven years. "We're calling for a blue-out next Saturday," said Pastner. "The whole reason this game is happening is for the fans. It's a give-back to the fans, after all they've done for us. I have great respect for Coach [Rick] Pitino. He was our biggest advocate for getting us into the Big East. They're a tremendous program."

NOTES: • Tiger forward Adonis Thomas left the game after just four minutes when he was hit in the eye by a stray elbow from Austin Peay's Chris Horton. (A flagrant-one technical was called on the play, meaning the act was judged intentional but not worthy of ejection.) Pastner said Thomas suffered a cut to one of his eyelids and actually his eyeball, resulting in blurred vision. Tiger trainer Brad Anderson said Thomas could play if needed, but he remained on the bench for precautionary reasons and is seeing an eye doctor this afternoon. • Governors guard Travis Betran played a tremendous game, hitting 9 of 15 shots (including five of six from long range) for a game-high 27 points. • Memphis had five players with at least three turnovers: Jackson, Goodwin, Johnson, Black, and Chris Crawford.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tigers 84, Ohio 58

Posted By on Wed, Dec 5, 2012 at 8:59 PM

And a fan base exhaled.

On what amounted to Newcomers Night at FedExForum, the Memphis Tigers rode the high-octane play of Shaq Goodwin and Geron Johnson to a much-needed win over a team that less than nine months ago played in the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16. Freshman forward Goodwin came up one rebound short of his second straight double-double (17 points, 9 rebounds), while Johnson — the junior transfer kicked off his high school team and two junior-college programs — somehow upstaged him with 21 points in 29 minutes off the bench. Junior point guard Joe Jackson — the grizzled veteran among this bunch — scored 10 points while adding five assists and five steals to the biggest win of the Tigers' young season.

"When Joe plays like that," said coach Josh Pastner, "it adds a pep to my step. I loved our energy tonight. We're not going to be a methodical team. We have to bring energy, and we did tonight against a very good team."

Shaq Goodwin

The crowd of 15,669 can say they were at Johnson's official coming-out party. The native of Dayton, Ohio, sat out the first three games of the season for having accepted education-based benefits at his previous school, but since taking the floor for the Tigers' final game at the Battle 4 Atlantis, he's been one more energy booster for Pastner's club. Johnson fueled a 15-5 run over a six-minute stretch of the first half that turned a three-point Tiger deficit into a seven-point lead, one they would not relinquish for the rest of the game. He scored the last field goal before halftime on an acrobatic drive to the basket, finishing with a left-handed scoop shot last seen during Derrick Rose's lone college season in Memphis (2007-08).

"He changed the tempo of the game," said Pastner. "And he loves defense." Johnson helped control Ohio's perimeter game, the Bobcats making only six of 25 three-point attempts (24 percent), well under their season average of 40 percent. D.J. Cooper scored 19 points for the visitors but Jon Smith (12) was the only other Bobcat in double figures.

As for Goodwin, the Georgia product merely scored the Tigers' first 10 points of the second half . . . in three minutes and 40 seconds. Following a trey and dunk from Johnson, the Tigers led 51-37 with just under 15 minutes to play and never again saw their lead below ten points. Goodwin entertained questions after the game about one dunk attempt that went through the rim, bounced off his head . . . and back through the rim to discount two points. "At first I didn't know it," said Goodwin. "I feel like they should count that, because the ball had to go through the cylinder."

"We ran our system," added Goodwin. "We ran our plays, and I was in the right place at the right time." Cliches aside, Goodwin earned his dunks — those he converted — by running the floor and being in position for fastbreak feeds from Jackson, Johnson, and Chris Crawford. He also hit eight of ten free throws. Goodwin welcomed the game's frenetic pace and all of his 28 minutes. "I looked at Coach [Pastner], and he said 'Dig in.' So that's what I did."

Junior center Tarik Black returned to big cheers after a one-game suspension for disciplinary reasons. He scored on a dunk shortly after entering the game midway through the first half and grabbed three rebounds in 12 minutes. But this was a night for new faces at Third and Beale. Pastner especially welcomed the positive vibe Johnson brought to the arena.

Follow the leader: Geron Johnson

"He was being a follower," said Pastner after the game in reflecting on Johnson's past transgressions. "He needs structure and discipline in his life. He's a good guy, and he's unselfish . . . off the court, too. He knows that everything he does, he'll be held accountable. There is no margin for error, and he appreciates that: the structure and discipline. [Johnson has a midnight curfew, seven days a week.] Life lessons like time management will help him later in life. Basketball can be an avenue for that."

As for beating a team that entered the game with a 6-1 record, and relieving a fan base hungry for a win over a team with credentials, Johnson was matter-of-fact. "We need each other to achieve the goals we have," said Johnson. "I'm still learning. This game was no more important than any other. Austin Peay's gonna be a big game, then Louisville. They're all important. [Ohio's] a great team; it's a good victory for us."

The Tigers (5-2) return to FedExForum Saturday for a noon tip-off against Austin Peay. Noted Pastner, "I don't want to hear anything about Louisville."

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