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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Tigers 78, Oral Roberts 63

Posted By on Sat, Dec 20, 2014 at 5:47 PM

The Memphis Tigers have their point guard. In a span of three games (and six days), sophomore Pookie Powell has managed to flip the script for a basketball team that two weeks ago found itself desperately in need of a backcourt stabilizer. This afternoon at FedExForum, Powell scored 14 points, dished out seven assists, grabbed six rebounds, two steals and even blocked a pair of Oral Roberts shots — one into the third row — to lead the Tigers to their third straight victory. After the Tigers played their first seven games without a player picking up as many as five assists, Powell has done so in three straight games, totaling 20 (against 10 turnovers).

Pookie Powell

"I cannot speak enough of my internal feelings toward Pookie," said Tiger coach Josh Pastner after the game. "His 50-50 plays, his effort, his toughness, his ability to stick his nose in and rebound. When Pookie got here, he would never stick his nose in or make 50-50 plays. His progression . . . I'm so darn proud of the young man. It's not about the offense. It's about him battling. Making a [defensive] play on the two-on-one fast break. He's got to keep it going."

"I'm just going out there, ready to play," said Powell. "I'm in a different mode when I'm out there. Coach emphasizes playing harder, making plays on the defensive end."

Sophomore guard Avery Woodson has had the closest view of Powell's transformation, starting alongside him in the Tiger backcourt. "He's been a talented player, and a point guard all his life," said Woodson. "I don't know why anyone ever doubted him. It just took him some time to get comfortable."

Sophomore forward Austin Nichols shared Powell's spotlight against the Golden Eagles, blocking eight shots — one shy of the Memphis record — and scoring 15 points with nine rebounds. His outing was in sharp contrast to that of junior Shaq Goodwin, who was a nonfactor after picking up two first-half fouls. "It's on Shaq to get the job done," said Pastner, after the preseason all-conference pick played but nine minutes and didn't score. "He's a huge piece. He's hit a bit of a wall, and he has to break through it."

The Tigers led by ten points (19-9) before the ten-minute mark of the first half, but allowed the Golden Eagles to make a 12-2 run over a four-minute stretch. Powell took an inbounds pass and drove the length of the floor for a layup to beat the halftime buzzer and give the U of M a 35-28 lead at the break.

Back-to-back layups by Korey Billbury drew ORU within five points (56-51) with 8:31 to play, but the Tigers responded and stretched the lead back to 13 points after a strip and breakaway dunk by Trahson Burrell with just over four minutes to play. Billbury scored a game-high 21 points for the Golden Eagles while Burrell had 12 to go along with seven rebounds for Memphis.

The Tigers' supporting cast played a big role, with 27 points coming off the bench. Nick King scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds while Chris Hawkins added six and seven, respectively, in just 18 minutes.

The Tigers held ORU to 34 percent shooting from the field and just 20 percent (3 for 15) from three-point territory. The U of M made 21 of 25 from the free-throw line.

Now 6-4, the Tigers will aim to extend their winning streak to four Tuesday night when Western Illinois visits FedExForum. It will be the last game before American Athletic Conference play begins (Houston here, December 31st).

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