Thursday, January 31, 2013

Native Memphians and the 1,000-point Club

Posted By on Thu, Jan 31, 2013 at 8:50 AM

In scoring a career-high 26 points last night at East Carolina, junior guard Joe Jackson became the 48th player in U of M history to reach 1,000 points for his career. Jackson is the 24th native Memphian to join this club, but the first since Jeremy Hunt scored his 1,000th point during the 2006-07 season. The six years are actually the longest drought between Memphians reaching this exclusive U of M fraternity of basketball stars.

Joe Jackson

Here’s a chronological list of native Memphians with 1,000 points for the Tigers. (For the purposes of this list, we’ll consider the Mississippi River the border it happens to be. So Keith Lee — now a Memphian for life — is technically from West Memphis, Arkansas.)

John Hillman (1962-65) — 1,009
Mike Butler (1965-68) — 1,409
Larry Finch (1970-73) — 1,869
Ronnie Robinson (1970-73) — 1,150
Bill Cook (1972-76) — 1,629
Alvin Wright (1974-78) — 1,319
James Bradley (1976-79) — 1,254
Doom Haynes (1980-84) — 1,479
Andre Turner (1982-86) — 1,442
Baskerville Holmes (1982-86) — 1,112
William Bedford (1983-86) — 1,224

Vincent Askew (1984-87) — 1,171
Dwight Boyd (1984-88) — 1,249
Cheyenne Gibson (1987-90) — 1,035
Elliot Perry (1987-91) — 2,209 (tops on this list)
Ernest Smith (1988-92) — 1,122
Billy Smith (1990-93) — 1,040
Penny Hardaway (1991-93) — 1,319
Cedric Henderson (1993-97) — 1,697
Lorenzen Wright (1994-96) — 1,026
Marcus Moody (1997-2001) — 1,208
Antonio Burks (2001-04) — 1,028
Jeremy Hunt (2002-07) — 1,145

Barring injury or leaving school early, two of Jackson’s teammates from Memphis (both juniors) should join this list. Through Wednesday’s game, Tarik Black has 846 career points and Chris Crawford has 694.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tigers 75, East Carolina 68

Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2013 at 7:38 PM

The Tigers escaped Greenville, North Carolina, tonight with their 11th consecutive win, but only after holding off the East Carolina Pirates in an ugly, uneven affair. Chris Crawford and Joe Jackson combined to hit four free throws in the final 14 seconds to seal the win.

Memphis fell behind 10-4, and had to rally for a 28-27 halftime lead. Junior forward Adonis Thomas went on a shooting binge over the game's first 20 minutes, but missed nine of his twelve shots from the field. The Tigers shot 32 percent for the first half while ECU was hardly better (35 percent).


The game remained tight over the first five minutes of the second half, then the Tigers went on a long-distance shooting spree, with treys from Joe Jackson (actually two), Chris Crawford, and Geron Johnson expanding the U of M lead to 13 with just over 12 minutes to play. The Pirates closed within four (51-47), but the Tigers again answered, extending the lead to 11 on back-to-back buckets from Crawford and Jackson. ECU reduced a 9-point deficit to three over the game's final two minutes, Prince Williams converting a three-point play with 16 seconds remaining. Crawford and Jackson, though, were perfect from the free throw line after intentional fouls by the Pirates.

It was a big night for Jackson, the junior from White Station High School. He scored a career-high 26 points to lead all scorers and also tallied the 1,000th point of his career. Johnson added 13 points for the Tigers and Crawford had 11. Thomas took only one shot after halftime and finished with eight points. Memphis outrebounded ECU, 49-33, with Shaq Goodwin pulling down 10.

The win gives Memphis a record of 17-3 (6-0 in Conference USA play) and a sweep of its two games with ECU this season. They return home Saturday to host Tulsa at FedExForum (1 p.m. tip-off).

NOTES: Jackson is the 48th player to score 1,000 points for the U of M and the 24th native Memphian in the club. He's the first Bluff City product to reach the plateau since Jeremy Hunt in 2007.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Just How Strong (or Weak) is C-USA?

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 at 11:31 AM

Tiger coach Josh Pastner has gotten testy of late on the subject of Conference USA and its strength relative to other leagues across the country. No chatter here. We're going to let the numbers (courtesy of the good folks at RealTimeRPI) do the talking.

The 12 C-USA teams are listed in order of RPI ranking, followed by their record (against Division I opponents) and strength of schedule.


RPI #40: Southern Miss (15-4) . . . 142 SOS
#48: Memphis (16-3) . . . 115
#64: UTEP (11-7) . . . 32
#104: UCF (13-5) . . . 161
#112: Tulsa (11-9) . . . 114
#116: East Carolina (8-7) . . . 89
#146: Tulane (13-6) . . . 264
#172: UAB (7-12) . . . 72
#183: SMU (10-10) . . . 190
#192: Marshall (8-11) . . . 104
#217: Houston (12-6) . . . 335
#308: Rice (3-14) . . . 154

How have C-USA teams fared against teams from the country's six power conferences (ACC, Big East, Pac 12, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC)? The overall record is 6-23. Only UTEP has beaten two power-conference teams (Oregon and Nebraska).

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Tigers 73, Marshall 72

Posted By on Sat, Jan 26, 2013 at 4:26 PM

"They're better than their record. They've got a great offensive rebounding team; they hurt us on weak side rebounding. They've got good players. Stop looking at records. Each game, by itself . . . we've got tremendous parity."

Tiger coach Josh Pastner was in all-out defend-Conference USA-mode following his team's narrow victory this afternoon over Marshall, the same Thundering Herd team that lost by 56 points at Southern Miss last Wednesday. A Thundering Herd team (now 9-12) that has also lost by 28 at Kentucky and 37 at Ohio (a team Memphis beat by 26). Despite starting a pair of all-conference candidates in DeAndre Kane and Dennis Tinnon, Marshall has now lost six of its last eight games and four straight against Memphis (including last year's C-USA tournament championship).

Memphis junior Joe Jackson had a six-word answer when asked how a team as seemingly talented as Marshall can be losing so regularly: "They don't have a point guard."

Tarik Black

The Tigers, in contrast, do have a point guard, and Jackson emphasized such with his 15th consecutive game in double figures on the scoreboard (16 points). He missed a late free throw that made the game tighter than it might have been (Geron Johnson missed two), but led the Tigers with five assists and only had two turnovers.

Memphis took a 10-point lead on a Tarik Black put-back 13 minutes into the game, but then watched the Herd rally on a 13-3 run to tie the game at 31. An Adonis Thomas trey and acrobatic leaner from Jackson helped the Tigers finish the first half on a 7-2 run and a 38-33 lead.

Marshall kept the score within four or five points throughout the second half, closing within one inside the final two minutes, but never taking the lead. Two Black free throws gave the Tigers a 70-67 lead with 1:18 to play, but the junior center was called for goaltending at the other end to again bring Marshall within a point.

Kane missed two short field-goal attempts inside the final minute and, after Johnson missed those two free throws, Elijah Pittman missed a three-point attempt from the right wing that would have given Marshall the lead with 13 seconds left. Chris Crawford grabbed the rebound, was fouled, and hit both shots, which proved critical when Kane buried a three-pointer as time expired. (Pastner protested the clock management, as 1.9 seconds was left when the Herd inbounded the ball after Crawford's free throws.)

Adonis Thomas (15 points) and Shaq Goodwin (11) joined Jackson in double figures for the Tigers while Kane led Marshall with 22 points and D.D. Scarver added 20. Each team hit seven three pointers. Marshall had 39 rebounds to the Tigers' 33.

"It's not easy to win ten in a row," emphasized Pastner. "We've gotten better since the Bahamas [in November]. We've got to keep it going. There is a lot of basketball to be played. The next game — at East Carolina — is the most important game."

"We knew this was going to be a battle," added Black. "No matter what happened the game before. They have so much size and length on the inside; most teams don't have that. It was tough. They won 50-50 balls. They're a tough team to play against." Black had eight points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench.

The Tigers, now 16-3, travel to East Carolina next Wednesday, then return to FedExForum next Saturday to face Tulsa. (Memphis and Marshall will meet again in West Virginia on February 16th.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tigers 71, Tulane 60

Posted By on Tue, Jan 22, 2013 at 9:55 PM

The Tigers discovered one surefire way to stop their recent trend of allowing big leads to slip away: Let the opponent take the big lead.

Having lost 20 game in a row in its series with Memphis, Tulane took the floor tonight at FedExForum with a noticeable energy charge. Led by sharp-shooting guard Ricky Tarrant, the Green Wave hit five of its first eight shots to take a 13-5 lead, then stretched the margin to 15 (32-17) with just over seven minutes to play until halftime. Only shut-down defense in the second half and a return, with impact, from one of their veteran leaders allowed the Tigers to pull away late for their ninth straight win, and their 90th in four years under coach Josh Pastner.

"Our crowd [15,466] was terrific," said Pastner after the game. "They gave us a great lift; they led the way. We got stops when we needed to. Held them to under 30 percent [shooting] in the second half. And we had 20 assists on 26 made field goals. Nice to get away with a victory."

Geron Johnson

Junior center Tarik Black did not play in the first half, a penalty for, as Pastner described it, his "negative attitude" during Saturday's win over Harvard. He entered the game with just over three minutes played in the second half and the Tigers down six points (41-35). They outscored Tulane by 17 the rest of the way, with Black scoring 10 (and picking up four fouls) in 16 minutes on the floor.

"Tarik's got a great spirit," said Pastner. "Everyone who knows him knows what a good young man he is. These are college guys, and mistakes are going to be made. We're in a public situation, where everyone knows what you did. Let's not blow it out of proportion. No one broke any law. It's very, very minor. Just one of those consequences. In the second half he did his job and helped us get a W."

Junior guard Geron Johnson led Memphis with 18 points (his second-highest total of the season), with four coming on a pair of alley-oop dunks from Joe Jackson. He added five assists and four steals, but could not explain the up-and-down nature of his team's play of late.

"I'm not a guy with excuses," Johnson said, "so maybe we're just a one-half team right now. But that's what we're working on in practice. I know we won't quit [when behind], but I wasn't worried about that, I'll be honest with you."

Joe Jackson scored 16 points for the Tigers (his 14th straight game with at least 10) and Chris Crawford was productive for a second straight game with 14 points (three treys) and six assists, one of them a beautiful feed late in the game that led to a D.J. Stephens slam dunk.

Pastner gave credit to Tulane coach Ed Conroy and his team for earning that early lead. "We allowed them to play catch," said Pastner. "They dictated tempo and punched us in the mouth. It wasn't until we turned up our intensity that we made our run." Josh Davis scored 13 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in 39 minutes for the Green Wave. Tulane managed to out-rebound the Tigers, 33-29, but Memphis had a distinct advantage in scoring off the bench (26-8), thanks to Crawford and Black.

The Tigers (15-3) finish their current three-game homestand Saturday with a 1 p.m. tip-off against Marshall, the team Memphis beat in last year's C-USA tournament championship game.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Tigers 60, Harvard 50

Posted By on Sat, Jan 19, 2013 at 2:37 PM

The Tigers took a big lead today against an overmatched team. Then halftime came. (However familiar this opening paragraph may seem, please keep reading.) After the break, Memphis allowed that overmatched team to go on an extended run while the Tiger offense played sporadic basketball. The U of M salvaged a win with a late burst of energy (and, not incidentally, a few timely field goals).

Today's victim was Harvard, but the Crimson merely belongs in a club of Tiger opponents that could bond over big leads erased. Tennessee. East Carolina. The club is growing.

"We won this game with our defense," said Tiger coach Josh Pastner after the game, his team's eighth straight victory finally secured. We were not in a rhythm offensively [the Tigers shot 39.3 percent from the field]. Harvard came into the game ranked third in the country in three-point shooting, and we held them to 25 percent [four for 16]. We hit another big-time skid offensively, but we won with defense."

Shaq Goodwin

Playing the program's first contest against an Ivy League opponent in more than 24 years, the Tigers raced out to a 20-point lead over the game's first 15 minutes. Despite junior guard Geron Johnson being limited to four minutes by a pair of fouls, the Tigers entered the break up a comfortable 16 points (32-16). But after the break, of course, lulls happen. At least to this team.

When Crimson point guard Siyani Chambers converted a layup just over 12 minutes into the second half, Harvard tied the game at 44, a cool 28-12 run in coach Tommy Amaker's hip pocket. Sophomore forward Steve Moundou-Missi's dunk a minute later gave the defending Ivy champs a 46-44 lead and had the crowd of 16,204 at FedExForum grinding their teeth over another lead blown right before their eyes. On the next Tiger possession, senior D.J. Stephens converted his own slam. When Joe Jackson dropped in a layup on a fastbreak pass from Johnson with five minutes to go, Memphis took the lead right back. Junior guard Chris Crawford scored eight of the Tigers' final ten points (including two more dunks) to provide a somewhat deceiving final margin of victory.

"We had some tremendous stops there at the end," said Crawford. "It helped us out. But we're struggling with turnovers [Crawford had four of the Tigers' 16]. If we take care of the ball and make shots, we'll be good."

As for the familiar — and extended — midgame lull, Crawford admitted to the possibility he and his teammates get complacent with a big lead. "We need to stay focused, keep our foot down [on the pedal]," he said. "Big leads are nice." Crawford's 13 points led the Tigers and were his most since late November.

"Chris has been working hard," said Jackson, who added 10 points, four assists, and four steals. "It's a long season. It's gonna happen for him. Everybody goes through a spell for a couple of games. You just push through it, and bounce back."

Like Crawford, Jackson doesn't want to forsake big early leads, but he'd like events to unfold a bit less dramatically. "We get up, and teams come back," he said. "It's nice to be up. I'd rather we're up than be playing from behind. As long as we win the game. We've got to work on it. We were a second-half team last year. Everything's gonna come together."

"You're gonna have ruts," emphasized Pastner, "when you're out of whack offensively. That's when you have to rely on defense."

Overall, Memphis held the Crimson to 37.5 percent from the field and won the rebounding battle, 42-28. Memphis grabbed 12 steals and blocked eight shots. Four of those blocks were delivered by Stephens, who added 10 points and eight rebounds despite bruising his left elbow on a fall in the second half. Freshman forward Shaq Goodwin added 11 points, eight rebounds, three blocks, and three steals.

The Tigers improve to 14-3 with the win and return to Conference USA play Tuesday night when Tulane comes to town.

NOTES: Despite a size advantage over the Crimson forwards and Goodwin saddled with four fouls, junior center Tarik Black only played four minutes in the second half. He was one of five from the field in 12 minutes for the game. "We don't have time to wait," said Pastner when asked about Black's current role on the team. "The caravan's moving forward. I'm not going to babysit during the game. If you're not producing, you're going to sit."

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Tigers 77, Rice 51

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2013 at 8:12 PM

Tonight's game in Houston wasn't all that different from driving the streets of Memphis in freezing rain. As long as the Tigers held steady, avoiding awkward stops and starts, they'd reach the desired destination of a 13th win.

Two years ago, the Tigers went off the road and the Owls delivered perhaps the most embarrassing loss in four years under coach Josh Pastner. Were it not for an unlikely run to the C-USA tournament championship, that loss at Rice may have kept Memphis out of the 2011 NCAA tournament. There will be no such scenario this year.


The Tigers actually trailed by two (20-18) five minutes before halftime, but utilized a 9-0 run (built with seven made free throws) to enter the break with a 31-24 lead. Memphis endured a seven-minute stretch without a made field goal but still led comfortably after 20 minutes.

Rice pulled within five points (38-33) three minutes into the second half, only to see Antonio Barton and Adonis Thomas drain consecutive three-pointers. The margin would not get below 10 points the remainder of the game. The Tigers capitalized on their size advantage, dominating the glass with 41 rebounds to the Owls' 19. Point guard Joe Jackson led Memphis with a career-high 12 boards and scored 13 points (his 12th straight game with at least 10). Four other Tigers scored in double figures: Shaq Goodwin (10), Adonis Thomas (12), Antonio Barton (13), and Tarik Black (12).

The win improves the U of M record to 13-3 (3-0 in C-USA). Memphis returns home for a nonconference game against Harvard Saturday at FedExForum (tip-off will be at 11:30 a.m.). The contest will be the first for the Tigers against an Ivy League school since December 20, 1988 (a win over Dartmouth).

Monday, January 14, 2013

Midseason Grades for the Memphis Tigers

Posted By on Mon, Jan 14, 2013 at 8:48 AM

With 15 games under their collective belt and 16 regular-season games to play, the Tigers find themselves at the season’s midpoint with as many questions to answer, really, as they had back in November. Can the team compete with Top 20 opposition? Is an NCAA tournament run a reasonable expectation? Who is the Memphis Tigers’ alpha male, the player to lift this team to heights unseen under coach Josh Pastner?

Instead of distributing the formulaic (A to F) midseason grades, I’m borrowing from hockey, and giving each member of the Tigers’ rotation a plus or minus, based on his performance this winter as compared with preseason expectations.

If any of these grades is unfair, it’s this one. For three seasons, now, Barton has had to establish what his role should be (or can be) as the season is unfolding. Arriving as a package deal with his older brother, Will, before the 2010-11 season, Antonio was initially seen as bonus value for the Tigers, a reserve who could handle the ball if Joe Jackson got in foul trouble, a reasonable shooter who could supplement a team led by more prominent offensive talents (like his older brother).

Barton has managed to retain virtually the same amount of playing time this season (21.0 minutes per game) as he enjoyed over his first two seasons (23.2), despite the emergence of Geron Johnson and the improved play of Jackson. His scoring (6.8) is slightly below his career average entering the season (7.4) but he leads the team in three-pointers made (19). So why the minus sign? Juniors need to take a stride or two up the developmental ladder, not merely hold steady. Barton won’t lose a game for the Tigers. How many can he win?

The Tigers’ lone preseason all-conference pick, Black would like to forget the first two months of the season even happened. A captain and longtime voice for reason and perspective in the Tiger locker room, Black had to sit out the UT-Martin game after an incident in practice, not the kind of thing that earns a captaincy. Nursing a groin injury, he has not started a game since the team returned from the Bahamas in late November.

Nonetheless, Black is third on the team in scoring (10.4) and has made 64.7 percent of his shots, after setting a team record (68.9) last season. Black’s rebounding is inconsistent (13 last Saturday night but an average of 5.5) and low for a player of his size and strength. If these Tigers are to, in fact, win a game or two in the NCAA tournament, Tarik Black will re-emerge and be a primary reason.

  • Crawford

There comes a point in the career of any athlete when you are what your numbers say you are. This former Sheffield star is a 37.8-percent shooter, one whose cold stretches have been more pronounced than his hot streaks. (Crawford has endured one stretch this season in which he made three of 14 three-point attempts, another in which he missed all 13 over five games.)

Crawford is the prettiest passer on the team (second in assists to Jackson), and enjoys a lengthy leash (he’s second on the team with 28.4 minutes per game). Like Barton, though, you’d like to see a larger impact from a player who entered the season with 43 starts on his resume. Crawford may come to be the face of this mini-era: a good player, one easy to root for, but with shortcomings impossible to overcome.

Armed with a refreshing smile (the best on the team in years), Goodwin has been strong (if not ferocious) in the paint for the Tigers. Playing almost 23 minutes a game, the freshman is second on the team in rebounding (5.5) and is efficient both from the field (52.7 percent) and the line (66.7). His scoring average (9.1) would be higher were this team’s offense not perimeter-based. (For every drive-and-scoop by Joe Jackson, there’s one less layup for Goodwin.) Similar to my thoughts on Black, if the Tigers are to do damage this March, Goodwin will have to make some headlines.

Certainly the most polarizing of the Tigers’ veteran players, Jackson has played lately like the kid who put White Station High School on his slim shoulders for four years. His performance against Tennessee earlier this month produced the kind of line (20 points, 7 assists, 4 steals, 2 turnovers) that leads highlight shows. Against a superior Louisville team, Jackson was guilty of eight turnovers but scored 23 points on just nine field-goal attempts and delivered eight assists.

  • Jackson

Jackson has taken that “junior stride” we haven’t seen on the part of Barton or Crawford (or Black). He’s long played with a chip on his shoulder, knowing local expectations are all but impossible to meet. But there seems to be a focus to Jackson this season that has kept performance front and center and distractions (the chirping of friends and foes) to a minimum. We’ll call it maturity. It’s a welcome sight.

The junior transfer is the best pure athlete on this team, and maybe the best to wear a Tiger uniform since Derrick Rose five years ago. It’s amazing how quickly concerns about Johnson’s off-court life faded when the strengths he brought his team became so abundantly clear. After sitting out the first three games of the season (for an academic violation at Garden City Community College), Johnson joined the Tiger rotation (playing 22 minutes against Minnesota in his debut) and has now started the last five games.

Johnson stole the spotlight against a good Ohio team in early December, hitting eight of 11 shots (including three treys) for 21 points. His line against Austin Peay: 14 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals. Then against Tennessee — the Tigers’ first real road test this season — Johnson drained a pair of late three-pointers to fend off a Volunteer rally. His toughness (physical and otherwise) is invaluable.

It’s a shame there isn’t a statistic that measures applause. A player considered a possible redshirt before his senior(!) season has garnered more (and louder) cheers per minute played than all but a very few Memphis players over the last 30 years. Stephens’s practice time has been dramatically reduced by a shoulder separation suffered during the team’s three-game visit to the Bahamas in November. Which means he’s living Allen Iverson’s dream: show up on game night and bring the house down.

His astounding leaping ability would be a nice novelty act, and would draw its share of cheers. (Stephens leads the team with 31 blocked shots, second in C-USA.) But Stephens personifies the hard-to-define “energy” Pastner preaches for winning basketball. He pulled down 14 rebounds against Oral Roberts, then 11 more last week against East Carolina. He’s reached double-figures in scoring four times, and with the least god-given talent of any player in the Tiger rotation. Jumping high is one thing; applying it to basketball another. Give D.J. Stephens credit for applying the skills he has magnificently.

Averaging 11.0 points and 4.1 rebounds a game is nothing to sneeze at. But not on this team, and not if you’re auditioning for the NBA draft’s first round. One of two Tigers to start every game this season, Thomas has been adequate, as his numbers suggest. (We’ll ignore the atrocious three-point shooting: 7 for 37.) But Thomas was to be the face of this team, the guy who filled Will Barton’s vacuum and then some. The alpha male. The nadir of his season (let’s hope) came against Louisville, when Thomas took only six shots in 33 minutes (he made two).

  • Thomas

Theories abound for why Thomas has disappointed. One eye on the NBA. Too much weight added last summer. Expectations too high for the McDonald’s All-American from Melrose. He remains the most gifted player on the Tiger roster. And there’s a lot of season left for Thomas to show the player he truly is (his mission statement entering the season after an injury-plagued freshman campaign). The trick will be elevating his level of play against the low-hanging fruit that is C-USA competition.

Photos by Larry Kuzniewski

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Tigers 69, UAB 53

Posted By on Sat, Jan 12, 2013 at 9:31 PM

The Tigers' farewell tour of Conference USA venues began tonight, appropriately enough, at Bartow Arena in Birmingham. The all-too-routine win was the U of M's 14th straight in its series with UAB. Played as the Bartow Classic, the game has raised funds annually for cancer research in honor of the late Gene Bartow, who coached Memphis to the 1973 NCAA championship game and later founded the program in Birmingham. UAB will remain a C-USA member next season when the Tigers move on to the Big East.


Junior point guard Joe Jackson continued his steady play with 17 points, while sophomore forward Adonis Thomas led the Tigers with 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Tarik Black came off the bench for 10 points and 13 rebounds and senior forward D.J. Stephens added six blocked shots (a new career high).

Memphis raced out to a 13-4 lead, then used a 13-1 run to enter halftime with a 34-20 lead. Unlike their previous two games (against Tennessee and East Carolina), the Tigers didn't allow their opponent to squeeze the scoring margin uncomfortably in the second half. UAB wasn't helped by missing all 13 of its three-point attempts (after missing all 23 long-distance shots in its previous outing). Memphis only made one of 12 shots from beyond the arc.

The win improves the Tigers' record to 12-3 (2-0 in C-USA play). They travel to Rice for their next game on Wednesday before returning to FedExForum to host Harvard on Saturday, January 19th. Memphis and UAB will play again at FEF on March 9th, the regular-season finale.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Tigers 67, East Carolina 54

Posted By on Wed, Jan 9, 2013 at 9:56 PM

Joe Jackson's first jump shot was nothing but net. Shaq Goodwin scored on a put-back in traffic. And, of course, D.J. Stephens made the banners in FedExForum ripple with a breakaway dunk from above. Before a crowd of 15,341 could dry themselves off for the U of M's Conference USA opener, the Tigers had a 39-12 lead over the East Carolina Pirates (a team that entered the game with nine wins, having lost by just six to North Carolina).

Then Shamarr Bowden happened. And Robert (son of Ralph) Sampson happened. And 21 straight points later, the Tigers' lead was merely 39-33. Over the game's final 17 minutes, ECU would get no closer than five points, but the defending C-USA champs were forced to play, yes, a 40-minute game.

D.J. Stephens doing what D.J. Stephens does.

"We're not playing high school teams," said Memphis coach Josh Pastner after his team completed the schizophrenic victory. "This is Division I college basketball, and it's a game of runs. We're not a finished product. We got sloppy, didn't keep it simple. If you don't take away the three-point shot [East Carolina made nine of 21 attempts], a game can change like that. We have to get better at protecting leads."

Jackson scored a game-high 15 points, his tenth straight outing with double figures. Stephens grabbed 11 rebounds, blocked three shots, and scored six points in 23 minutes. Goodwin was the only other Tiger in double figures on the scoreboard, with 12. The Tiger offense played a choppy game, with only 12 assists on 28 made field goals. Chris Crawford, Antonio Barton, and Tarik Black combined for 21 points off the bench.

While the Tigers were all smiles after the final buzzer, talk centered on that 21-point ECU run that bridged halftime. "When we get a lead, we have to be able to sustain it," said Jackson. "Keep playing hard. It's an adjustment we have to make, and we'll work on it."

Added Goodwin, "That game was really physical. We know we have the quick guards, but we have to have a big-man presence inside. [Memphis outscored the Pirates 40-16 in the paint.] We have to stay locked in and not let teams get back in the game with the three-point shot."

"We lost our man late in the shot clock," noted Adonis Thomas, who was held to seven points in 30 minutes (on two-of-eight shooting). "Gotta stay focused."

Even with the lengthy run, East Carolina's two stars weren't allowed to break out, Miguel Paul finishing with 10 points and Maurice Kemp with 11.

"We took our foot off the pedal," said Pastner. "And we can't do that. We're everyone's World Series, everyone's Super Bowl. But in the end, we got the win. Better to be 1-0 in the league than 0-1."

The Tigers travel to UAB for their next game Saturday night.

C-USA: The Last Dance

Posted By on Wed, Jan 9, 2013 at 9:19 AM

When the Tigers tip-off tonight against East Carolina at FedExForum, their 18th and final Conference USA season will be officially underway. For some historical perspective, the Memphis program spent only six years in the Missouri Valley Conference (1967-73) and only 16 in the Metro Conference (1975-91).

With five regular-season titles and six tourney championships, it's been an era of dominance for the U of M. Below is a list of the Tigers' record against their 11 current C-USA foes (including games in the postseason tournament). Only Tulane, UAB, and Southern Miss have been in the league with Memphis all 18 years. And five of the teams below — Houston, SMU, UCF, East Carolina, and Tulane — will be joining the Tigers next season in the revamped Big East.

• UAB: 24-7
• Southern Miss: 26-10
• Tulane: 25-2
• Houston: 23-9
• East Carolina: 12-1
• Tulsa: 13-1
• UTEP: 6-3
• UCF: 9-1
• Marshall: 10-1
• Rice: 6-1
• SMU: 9-2

Friday, January 4, 2013

Tigers 85, Tennessee 80

Posted By on Fri, Jan 4, 2013 at 9:06 PM

With confusion and tension in the air over an intrastate series that may or may not continue, the Tigers traveled to Knoxville and beat Tennessee for their lone win this season over a team from one of the country's six power conferences. Joe Jackson led Memphis with 20 points, with Adonis Thomas (18), Geron Johnson (16), and D.J. Stephens (11) also reaching double figures.

The Tigers enjoyed a 22-8 run in the first half, taking a 14-point lead at the break after holding the Volunteers to 28-percent shooting (8 for 29). The lead reached 21 points before the Vols' Jordan McRae caught fire and connected on five three-pointers in the second half. McRae led all scorers with 26 points for the game.


Johnson connected on three-pointers after the Vols closed to within six and five points inside the game's final six minutes. Tennessee's Josh Richardson (20 points) missed a breakaway dunk that would have closed the Tiger lead to 74-68 with just under three minutes to play.

The Tigers' Chris Crawford hit a pair of clutch free throws with 41 seconds left to give Memphis an 81-75 lead and all the points they'd need.

The victory improves the Tigers' record to 10-3 entering Conference USA play and ends a week of head-scratching debate over whether the series with Tennessee should be a thing of the past (ask coach Josh Pastner) or extended into the future (ask U of M athletic director Tom Bowen). Regardless of your stance on the issue, tonight's win will prove to be among the Tigers' most valuable when it comes to RPI rankings, particularly if the Vols can pull off an upset over the likes of Kentucky or Florida in SEC play.

Perhaps worthy of note: Pastner is now 3-2 against Tennessee. His record against other power-conference teams: 4-12.

The Tigers host East Carolina next Wednesday at FedExForum.

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