Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tigers 69, UCF 59

Posted By on Wed, Jan 29, 2014 at 8:13 PM

The Tigers survived the Isaiah Sykes Show in Orlando tonight to earn their fourth straight win and improve to 6-2 in American Athletic Conference play (4-0 on the road). Key to the win were four three-pointers from senior guard Chris Crawford (as a team, Memphis hit seven of 12 from long range). Crawford's last trey of the game (with just under six minutes to play) keyed a 10-3 Tiger run to the final buzzer.

Sykes, the Knights' senior guard and all-conference candidate, exceeded his season averages of 15.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in the first half (16, 7, 4). He was limited to merely 8, 5, and 1 in the second half.

UCF took the lead, 33-32, on a Steven Haney three-pointer with just over three minutes to play in the first half. Despite shooting 62 percent over the game's first 20 minutes, the Tigers found themselves tied at the break, 39-39. Sophomore forward Shaq Goodwin went to the bench after picking up his second foul with 11:20 to play in the first, opening much of the lane for Sykes's frequent drives to the rim. Goodwin was held under 10 points (6) for the first time in seven games.

Joe Jackson led Memphis with 17 points and, with the victory, can sleep easier after a breakaway dunk-attempt slammed off the heel of the rim with the Tigers leading 51-46 midway through the second half. Jackson passed Kelly Wise for 10th place on the Memphis all-time scoring chart. With 1,493 career points, Jackson's next mark is Chris Douglas-Roberts (1,545).

All four senior guards for Memphis reached double figures, Michael Dixon adding 12 (before leaving the game with an injury at the 8:24 mark), and Geron Johnson 10.

Now 16-4, the 22nd-ranked Tigers will travel to Dallas and face SMU Saturday afternoon. The Mustangs were upset by USF Tuesday night, the same team the U of M beat by 22 points last Sunday.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Tigers 80, USF 58

Posted By on Sun, Jan 26, 2014 at 4:21 PM

The path to a high NCAA tournament seed is paved with winning streaks. In beating an undermanned South Florida team Sunday afternoon at FedExForum, the Tigers gained a third consecutive victory in what they hope will be a run that boosts the team back into the nation's top 20, perhaps to the top of the American Athletic Conference, and into the realm of seeds four (or higher) come March's big dance.

Memphis started the game flat, as though the Bulls — entering the game on a three-game losing streak — weren't capable of drawing the best out of the home team. (The Tigers beat USF by 15 on New Year's Eve in Tampa.) With 3:55 to play in the first half, the Tigers led by only two (24-22). But back-to-back three pointers by Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford fueled a 10-0 run to end the half and give the U of M a 34-22 lead. The Tigers' hot shooting had only begun.

Chris Crawford

Over the course of the first nine minutes of the second half, Memphis hit seven treys, three by Crawford who recently became the fourth player in the program's history to hit 200 for his career. The Tiger lead grew to 23 (56-33) with 12:36 left to play and Memphis coach Josh Pastner was able to expand his rotation the rest of the game.

Crawford finished with 15 points, Jackson added 14 (with seven assists), and sophomore forward Shaq Goodwin had his fourth double-double of the season with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Geron Johnson added eight points and seven assists and freshman Nick King scored ten points in 16 minutes off the bench.

"We've got one of the greatest shooters in the country in Chris Crawford," said Johnson after the game. "This is going to get him started, hopefully like he was in last year's conference tournament. We've got to stay focused. My focus level wasn't up, but that happens in the game of basketball. We don't want to play close games."

While the Tigers missed 15 of 35 free throws (the seventh game this season they've missed at least ten), they picked up 23 assists on 25 field goals, a remarkable percentage that speaks well for the team's collective effort to share the ball. "That's phenomenal," said Johnson. "That's unselfish basketball. We've got great character guys. We're just having fun, working the ball. The open man is the go-to man."

The Tigers held USF to 34-percent shooting from the field. Ridgeway alum Martino Brock led the Bulls with 17 points off the bench. He was the only USF player to reach double figures.

Crawford was pleased with his team's hot outside shooting, but emphasized that it came within the normal flow of a game. "Our inside-out philosophy has been working," said Crawford. "Everybody's so unselfish. When you make a couple of shots, you're gonna take at least one bad three, just to see how it's looking. But we're letting the shots come to us."

When exactly did Crawford know he had a hot hand? "As soon as the first one in the second half went in," he said. As a team, the Tigers hit ten three-pointers for the first time this season.

Now 15-4 (5-2 in the AAC), the 23rd-ranked Tigers will travel to Orlando and face UCF next Wednesday. After that, it's a road tilt with a rising SMU program (February 1) before a return to FedExForum to play Rutgers (February 4).

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Tigers 82, Houston 59

Posted By on Thu, Jan 23, 2014 at 10:26 PM

Let's call tonight's Tiger victory a stabilizer.

The country's 23rd-ranked team has spent much of January winning league games on the road (Louisville, Temple) and losing league games at FedExForum (Cincinnati, Connecticut). The schizophrenic performances yielded a 3-2 record in American Athletic Conference play, good for a less-than-impressive fourth place in the standings entering tonight's contest with Houston (also 3-2 in the AAC). To lose a third straight league game at Third and Beale? What's the opposite of stabilizer?

Sophomore Shaq Goodwin scored 12 points in the first five minutes tonight, helping the Tigers seize a 14-4 lead they would not relinquish. Three of Goodwin's early field goals were of the slam-dunk variety, helping Memphis accumulate 11 jams over the course of the game (against a program that gave us, remember, Phi Slamma Jamma so many seasons ago). A 10-3 run to end the first half gave the Tigers a 47-32 lead. Senior guard Michael Dixon hit four of five shots (including two three-pointers) over the first 20 minutes to lead a Tiger offense that shot 61 percent before halftime and 59 percent for the game. Goodwin (20 points) and Dixon (13) were joined by Joe Jackson (18) atop the scoring column for Memphis.

Shaq Goodwin

"We played with a sense of urgency today," said Dixon. "We locked in on defense. It was a collective team effort on defense. Our [offensive] game-plan is always to play inside-out, and we did that tonight. A lot of things happen well when you play defense. My teammates put me in position to make plays tonight and I did."

Coming off the bench for an energy boost — again — was senior forward David Pellom. The transfer from George Washington drew two offensive fouls in the first half, hit all three of his field goal attempts, pulled down seven rebounds and dished out a pair of assists — one on a mini-lob to Goodwin for a second-half dunk — in just 16 minutes off the bench.

"We lost two conference games at home, and if you want to be great, you can't do that," said Pellom. "Tonight, I took an early charge and felt amped. We played with a lot of energy from start to finish. If we keep high energy, the sky's the limit for us."

Tiger coach Josh Pastner agreed with Pellom's assessment. "We held a 40-percent three-point shooting team to 14 percent. That was our energy. Everyone who played contributed; there was no slippage. We're a very good basketball team when we play with great energy."

Pastner described a "defensive boot camp" he instituted last Sunday. Over the course of two practices that totaled three-and-a-half hours this week, precisely 15 minutes were devoted to shooting drills. Everything else was defense. The Cougars were limited to 43 percent from the field and were outscored 48-36 in the paint. Houston scored only seven second-chance points.

Cougar star TaShawn Thomas wasn't allowed to make a difference, finishing the game with 14 points and seven rebounds in 34 minutes.

The win improves the Tigers' record to 14-4 (4-2 in the AAC). They remain two games behind league leader Cincinnati (winners tonight over UCF). Memphis will finish a four-game home stand Sunday when the South Florida Bulls (10-9, losers of three straight) come to town. Stability remains the goal.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Tigers 101, LeMoyne-Owen 78

Posted By on Sat, Jan 18, 2014 at 4:33 PM

This was exhibition basketball in January. The result will count in the books. The numbers will pad the player stats. But this was a barely glorified exhibition game in front of 14,021 fans — or at least sold seats — at FedExForum. Memphis coach Josh Pastner, to his credit, honored a commitment for what amounts to a $25,000 payday for the Magician athletic department. On the heels of a four-game stretch that featured Cincinnati, Louisville, Temple, and Connecticut, the Tigers will take the win, however packaged. (The victory, alas, will not be factored into the Tigers' RPI figure, LeMoyne-Owen being a Division 2 program.)

"When you're coming off a tough loss, you have to get one back," said Tiger guard Geron Johnson, who scored 12 points and dished out seven assists in a team-high 23 minutes of playing time. "You can't take any game for granted. A win's a win. It's another game on the schedule, one you have to play and win."

The Magicians waved a wand for six minutes after the opening tip, but 12-12 was the last tie score they enjoyed. The Tigers scored 15 points over the last four minutes of the first half to pull away with a lead of 19 (52-33) at halftime.

The mismatch made for some unique numbers, relative to the Tigers' first 16 games of the season:

• Thirteen Tigers made it onto the floor and every one of them scored. Contrast this with a team that had seen its rotation squeezed to seven players over the first four games of the new year.

• Freshman center Dominic Woodson enjoyed his most playing time (16 minutes) of the season and managed a rare 5-5-5: points, rebounds, and fouls.

• Freshman forward Nick King played his most minutes (23) of the season and led Memphis with 18 points.

• Freshman forward Kuran Iverson played 22 minutes and with 11 points outscored starters Joe Jackson (4) and Chris Crawford (9).

• Walk-ons Trey Draper and Jake McDowell each hit late free throws. Draper's was his first point of the season and drew a big cheer from the crowd for being the Tigers' 100th of the game.

Demba Konate came off the bench to lead LeMoyne-Owen with 17 points. The Magicians grabbed but one fewer rebound (44) than did the Tigers.

"It was fun," said freshman forward Austin Nichols. "A lot of the young kids got to play. We got to work on stuff we don't usually get to work on in games. It was a game to remember who we are, get down to the basics, and just have fun." Nichols hit all six of his shots from the field to score 12 points in 19 minutes. As a team, the Tigers shot 58 percent from the field and hit six of 19 from three-point range (three of them by Crawford).

"This was a bounce-back game for us," said King, who reached double figures in scoring for the first time since opening his college career with three such games. "I'm learning a lot, just how to help my teammates. Kuran and I play with the same group in practice, and there's a certain bond we have, knowing we have to work hard every minute we're on the court. It's basketball. I know I can help this team in big games."

The big games will return Thursday night when the Tigers (now 13-4) host Houston at FedExForum.

NOTE: Senior guard Joe Jackson saw his streak of games with at least 10 points end at 14. But the pride of White Station High School did manage to pass Andre Turner and move into 12th on the Memphis career scoring chart. With 44 more points, Jackson will climb past Doom Haynes and Kelly Wise and into the top 10.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Connecticut 83, Memphis 73

Posted By on Thu, Jan 16, 2014 at 10:10 PM

Nights like this are part of the deal.

When the University of Memphis left Conference USA behind for the new — and superior — American Athletic Conference, Tiger fans embraced the upgrade in regular-season competition. Instead of Marshall or Rice on a Wednesday night in mid-January, they could look forward to Cincinnati for a Saturday matinee or UConn in a Thursday night affair televised across the country.

Welcome to that new world. Home-court advantage ain't what it used to be.

"To win a conference championship," said Memphis coach Josh Pastner after his team's second straight home loss, "you have to protect your home court and steal a few on the road. We've managed to steal a few on the road, but we're not protecting home court."

UConn's junior forward DeAndre Daniels did his best Scottie Pippen impression, hitting four of five three-point attempts, scoring 23 points, grabbing 11 rebounds, and blocking three shots to steal the spotlight from Shabazz Napier, the Huskies' All-America candidate who managed but 17 points (and missed seven of his eight three-point tries). Daniels and Napier each hit a big shot inside the game's final two minutes to clinch the victory for UConn, a win that evens their AAC record at 2-2 (while dropping the Tigers to 3-2 in league play).

Michael Dixon

The teams played the first half in much the way you'd expect a game on the second weekend of the NCAA tournament to be played. They combined for ten three-pointers (including at least one from each of the Tigers' four acclaimed senior guards), the last one by Husky point guard Ryan Boatright to draw the visitors within one (40-39) at the break.

UConn sprinted into the second half on a 10-2 run in just two and a half minutes of playing time. The Tigers seemed to slow the Huskies with a zone defense, but were never able to seize and expand a lead. Sophomore forward Shaq Goodwin buried a ten-foot jumper from the right side to tied the game at 62 with 5:20 to play, but Napier answered with a jumper of his own to retake a lead the Huskies would not relinquish.

Down 75-71 with a minute to play, the Tigers forced a turnover at the Husky end of the floor, but Joe Jackson left a driving layup-attempt short on the next possession. Connecticut buried six free throws to cushion the lead as the clock finally expired.

Sixth man Michael Dixon led the Tigers with 16 points, but shook his head after a loss that ended the weeklong revelry over his team's upset of Louisville. "I think this is the best league in the country," he said. "They lose two games [to Houston and SMU], then come here and beat us. We're a good team."

Added freshman forward Austin Nichols (13 points, 5 rebounds), "We gotta bounce back. We'll be fine. They were more aggressive than us, and that's definitely got to change. We have to protect home court; that's one of the most important things. We know the fans are excited, and we're excited. It's a little disappointing."

The Huskies shot 57 percent for the game (the Tigers 43 percent) and outrebounded Memphis, 34-27. Shaq Goodwin scored 10 points but pulled down only two rebounds in 26 minutes.

"We had some opportunities where we needed to make some big shots," said Pastner, "and we did not. I was disappointed with our guard rebounding besides Geron Johnson [who had six]. Shaq wasn't as good as he's been; we need him to be better."

The Memphis coach acknowledged the star of the night. "Daniels is a hard matchup. He plays their four spot, or five, and our [big] guys aren't used to [that kind of shooting]. We got sucked in [defensively], and they kicked it out for open threes. We didn't get stops. I was disappointed with our small lineup. They beat us on penetration."

The Tigers' next opponent, alas, is not a recent national champion. In fact, Memphis (now 12-4 overall) will host an intra-city contest when LeMoyne-Owen visits FedExForum Saturday afternoon. Pastner scheduled the game as a promise to the school when an earlier exhibition game was replaced by a preseason scrimmage against another Division I opponent.

It will be an odd break in what's proving to be a rigorous 18-game fire dance through the AAC. "This is a very good league," said senior guard Chris Crawford, who spent his first three college seasons waltzing through C-USA. "But we have a lot more basketball to play. We can't let this loss soak in on us. Gotta regroup and get ready for the next game.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Tigers 79, Temple 69

Posted By on Sat, Jan 11, 2014 at 4:28 PM

Having completed the program's best 48 hours in recent memory, the Memphis Tigers should return comfortably to the Top 20 when the new AP rankings are released Monday.

This afternoon in Philadelphia, Memphis trailed at halftime (37-36) and survived a 24-point outburst by the Owls' Dalton Pepper to win its 12th game of the season, a happy encore to the upset of national champion Louisville Thursday night. Spurred by three three-pointers midway through the second half — two by Michael Dixon and one by Chris Crawford — the 24th-ranked Tigers enjoyed a 15-4 run to pull away and improve to 3-0 on the road in American Athletic Conference play.

Fear_the_Tiger.jpg

A Pepper three-pointer pulled the Owls within six (73-67) with 2:16 to play, but the reserve center David Pellom came to the rescue on the next Tiger possession with an offensive rebound and layup. Memphis pulled down 16 offensive rebounds in the game, offsetting tremendous outside shooting by Temple (8 for 16 from three-point range). The Tigers distributed the ball well, with 21 assists on 30 made field goals.

Sophomore Shaq Goodwin led the Tigers with a career-high 23 points and 11 rebounds, continuing his renaissance after a disappointing freshman season. Joe Jackson added 10 points (all after halftime) and Chris Crawford flirted with a triple double: 9 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists. Michael Dixon scored 15 points and picked up five assists off the Memphis bench.

Now 12-3, the Tigers will host their next four games at FedExForum: Connecticut (January 16), LeMoyne-Owen (January 18), Houston (January 23), and USF (January 26).

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Tigers 73, Louisville 67(!)

Posted By on Thu, Jan 9, 2014 at 8:29 PM

1388969277-pastner_finger.jpg

A rivalry is reborn.

It's nice to reflect on the glorious history Memphis and Louisville share on the hardwood. Countless showdowns in various arenas over multiple generations. But the fact is, the Cardinals took strides over the last five years the Tigers weren't able to follow, most significantly winning a national championship last April. Louisville had taken the last four games in the long series, the Tigers' last win coming on February 9, 2005.

That's over. Tonight at the clumsily named KFC Yum! Center, Memphis outscored the reigning champs 14-3 over the game's final 3:40 to earn Josh Pastner his biggest win in five years as a head coach. (Yes, beating the Cardinals tonight trumps the upset of Oklahoma State last month.) Sparked by a seismic dunk from Geron Johnson (followed by a free throw that tied the game after Johnson was fouled), the 24th-ranked Tigers landed the basketball equivalent of body blows to hold on for the upset over the 12th-ranked Cardinals.


After Shaq Goodwin gave Memphis a 66-65 lead with a pair of free throws, Montrezl Harrell scored on a lob for what turned out to be Louisville's final points of the game. Johnson hit a pair of free throws to regain the lead for Memphis, then the Cardinals preseason All-America, Russ Smith, was errant on a baseline drive with a minute to play.

Joe Jackson followed with a drive into the lane and Harrell was called for goaltending on a floater Jackson sent toward the rim (a shot that appeared astray on replays). With the Cardinals down 70-67, Luke Hancock — the Most Outstanding Player of last season's Final Four — took a three-pointer from the left wing that bounced high over the backboard. When Jackson hit the second of two free throws with 18.4 seconds left, the Tigers all but sealed the win. Wayne Blackshear missed a three-point attempt and Goodwin broke free for a dunk to complete the game's scoring.

The win erases, to some degree, the ugly memories from just last Saturday when Cincinnati came to FedExForum and beat the favored Tigers by 16 points. The U of M played its most well-rounded game of the season, with five players scoring at least 10 points: Jackson (15), Goodwin (15), Johnson (13), Chris Crawford (12), and Austin Nichols (10). Johnson led the Tigers with 11 rebounds, while Goodwin added eight and Nichols seven.

Hancock led Louisville with 20 points while Smith scored 19.

Memphis shot 51 percent for the game and held the Cardinals to 39 percent. The win improves the Tigers' record to 11-3, while the defending champs fall to 13-3.

The Tigers continue their January gauntlet through the American Athletic Conference with a game at Temple Saturday afternoon. They return home next Thursday (January 16th) against Connecticut. Louisville will be at FedExForum (seeking revenge) on March 1st.

Life is good in Memphis during basketball season. It's just better when the Tigers beat Louisville.

Monday, January 6, 2014

New Year, New Challenges

Posted By on Mon, Jan 6, 2014 at 8:00 AM

Will two weeks in January define a basketball season for the Memphis Tigers? Maybe or maybe not, but the U of M program has begun a four-game regular-season stretch unlike it has seen in more than 20 years. Two of the last three national champions (Connecticut and Louisville). The program’s two most intense historic rivals (Louisville and Cincinnati). With tradition-rich Temple — on the road — thrown in for good measure. By the time the Tigers host LeMoyne-Owen on January 18th, they could be 13-3 and ranked among the top 15 teams in the country. Or they could be 10-6 and facing a climb just to qualify for the NCAA tournament. The fun resumes this Thursday night at Freedom Hall in Louisville. (Has it really been nine years since Memphis beat the Cardinals?)

With a season’s tipping point upon us, a few observations from the Tigers’ first 13 games:

“We put a lot of eggs in their basket.” After the Cincinnati loss last Saturday, Tiger coach Josh Pastner emphasized — again and again — that this team will go as far as its core of senior guards takes it. It’s a painfully obvious view: select any four-man unit from a college team’s eight-man rotation and its collective performance will impact games. But when the four are all guards, handling the ball on virtually every possession? This is easy math.

In the season-changing upset of Oklahoma State on December 1st, the fab four — Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Geron Johnson, and Michael Dixon — combined to score 45 points. They made 17 of 36 field-goal attempts, including five three pointers. Last Saturday against the Bearcats, the foursome combined to score 37 points, but was woefully inefficient, hitting 14 of 49 shots from the field and missing 15 of 17 three-point attempts. It’s a group that seems to thrive on collective success, but one that also seems prone to collective shooting slumps.

The bigs still matter. The four guards played well in the narrow loss to Florida on December 17th, combining for 52 points and six three-pointers. But starting forwards Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols were held to a combined three field goals and eight rebounds. (This was the night senior transfer David Pellom emerged as a difference-maker with 12 points in 16 minutes off the bench.) Last Saturday, Goodwin made only two field goals in 35 minutes and pulled down six rebounds (just under his average of 6.8 per game). Nichols looked a step slow in the first half (one field goal in four attempts and a single rebound) and didn’t get off the bench in the second.

Shaq Goodwin

With the Tiger big men all but nullified, Cincinnati was able to stretch its defense to the perimeter, contributing to the miserable Memphis shooting. Pellom again filled some of the void inside, hitting four of five shots, but Goodwin and Nichols will have to get closer to their combined averages of 20.8 points and 12.9 rebounds for the Tigers to threaten the top teams in the American Athletic Conference.

The star freshmen . . . are still freshmen. As for early-career teasers, Nichols and Nick King have provided highlights that have had Tiger fans salivating. A starter since opening night, Nichols scored 19 points and pulled down eight rebounds in the win over LSU. King had the lone positive performance in the loss at Oklahoma State — just his second college game — with 23 points and eight rebounds in 15 minutes (alas, most of those minutes after the outcome had been decided).

But King hasn’t played as many as 15 minutes since the Northwestern State game on December 7th. Nichols is catching up to the speed of the college game. And Kuran Iverson has averaged only 9.4 minutes of playing time in the nine games he’s entered. It will be interesting to see how Pastner and his staff keep these future stars engaged, particularly through the tougher stretches of the schedule. A year from now, we won’t be discussing four senior guards. The primary topic will be the team’s young but veteran leaders: Austin Nichols, Nick King, and Kuran Iverson.

Josh Pastner

Depth on paper is one thing. Pastner utilized but six players in the second half against Cincinnati: the four seniors, Goodwin and Pellom. A suggestion back in November that Memphis would battle the Bearcats with Nichols, King, Iverson, Damien Wilson, and Dominic Woodson all in a sitting position would have raised some eyebrows in these parts.

I asked Jackson about the squeezed rotation Saturday, and he was succinct in measuring the significance. “You earn playing time through practice,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.” Can the likes of Iverson, Wilson, and Woodson gain enough trust from the coaching staff — in practice — to take the floor at Louisville or Temple? The emergence of one or two of this team’s supporting cast could make the difference in a significant win.

Eighteen regular-season games remain for the Memphis Tigers. You gotta figure 12 or 13 wins would secure a dance ticket. But with five of those games against the American’s current big three (Louisville, UConn, and Cincinnati), there’s not a lot of margin to accommodate performances like last Saturday’s at FedExForum. It’s time to tighten the laces.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Cincinnati 69, Tigers 53

Posted By on Sat, Jan 4, 2014 at 2:59 PM

The Tigers renewed one of their oldest rivalries today at FedExForum, only to receive a humbling reminder that life in the American Athletic Conference — with friends like Cincinnati — includes bumps and bruises on the way to March. The Bearcats were tougher, bigger, and even played faster than the pace-pushing Tigers, winning their 13th game of the season behind 18 points from Sean Kilpatrick and a muscle-flexing game from senior forward Justin Jackson: 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 blocked shots.

As for the home team, shots didn't fall, particularly from long range, making the outcome all too predictable for coach Josh Pastner. "I've said this before, and I'll say it all season: When our four senior guards play poorly collectively — and they did today — we're going to struggle. We put a lot of eggs in their basket."

Joe Jackson goes one-on-four.

Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson, Chris Crawford, and Michael Dixon combined to shoot 2-for-17 from three-point range. While Jackson scored 13 points to lead the Tigers, his three backcourt running mates combined to miss 28 of the 36 shots they tossed at the rim. "If you don't make shots," said Pastner, "it sucks the life out of you. If we make some threes, we're talking about a different situation."

The Tigers lifted a raucous crowd of 17,191 early in the game, with Johnson and Jackson delivering dunks on the way to an early 8-4 Memphis lead. The Tigers maintained the lead for most of the first half, until the Bearcats went on an 8-2 run over the final four minutes before the break. Despite shooting 33 percent over the game's first 20 minutes, Cincinnati led, 27-26, at halftime. The Bearcats scored 10 of those points on second-chance opportunities, relentlessly hitting the offensive glass.

With Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols struggling inside, Pastner turned to David Pellom and the senior transfer showed the energy he's come to personify for this veteran team. He scored eight points and grabbed seven rebounds in 23 minutes, but went to the bench with four fouls and more than 10 minutes left in the game. Cincinnati stretched a five-point lead to 10 with just under eight minutes left, and the Tigers never again pulled within a single possession. Goodwin finished with six points and six rebounds in 35 minutes and Nichols didn't get off the bench in the second half. (Nichols is officially in the first slump of his college career. The freshman from Briarcrest hasn't grabbed more than three rebounds six consecutive games.)

"They wanted it more," said Johnson after the game. "They came here and took it from us, got a big win. It's a let-down. We try to take care of business. But we'll get back in the lab. We've got to keep shooting. This game is over with."

The loss will likely drop the 18th-ranked Tigers (now 10-3) out of the Top 20, with the reigning national champion Louisville Cardinals up next on the schedule (Thursday in Kentucky).

"It's a game we can learn from," said Jackson. "It's just one loss. We work too hard not to get better. They did a great job, just stopped us on offense. Cincinnati's a tough-nosed team; you could tell the way they crashed the boards. They were talking on the bench and really wanted to beat us. I feel like, as a unit, we didn't really want to beat them. Like we had something against them. Now, we've got a chip back on our shoulder."

A Tiger team lauded for its depth in November was reduced to six players in the second half against Cincinnati. (Heralded freshman Nick King played a total of three minutes and didn't attempt a field goal.) Despite five of those six players being seniors, the U of M was overmatched by its old rival from the Metro Conference and Conference USA. Great to see you! Good riddance.

"It's no time for a pity party," said Pastner. "Cincinnati has a great team, a great program. We've got to get ready for Thursday."

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