Friday, November 6, 2015

Tigers Beat LeMoyne-Owen in Basketball Exhibition

Posted By on Fri, Nov 6, 2015 at 11:07 PM

By at least one measure, the 2015-16 Tiger basketball season is already an improvement on the 2014-15 campaign. Not quite a year ago, you might recall, the U of M shocked its fan base by dropping an exhibition game to CBU at FedExForum. The regular season that followed was a continuous series of disappointments, culminating in no postseason play for the first time in 15 years.

Tonight in the same arena, Memphis handled LeMoyne-Owen, 107-88. Senior forward Shaq Goodwin starred for the Tigers (as he must all season) with 17 points and 14 rebounds. Senior transfer Ricky Tarrant paced the Tigers in scoring (22 points) in his first game in a Memphis uniform and the Lawson brothers (freshmen Dedric and K.J.) combined for 23 points and 16 rebounds.

Forty minutes of basketball is an eye-blink when it comes to first impressions, but here are three I'll carry toward the season opener next week (November 14th) against Southern Miss. 

Ricky Tarrant is this team's floor leader. The former Tulane and Alabama stand-out is everything the Tigers seemed to lack at the point guard position a year ago: quick, aggressive, steady with the ball, capable of getting to the line and hitting free throws (8 for 8 tonight). There's a lot of Michael Dixon in his game. Tarrant hit a pair of three-pointers late in the first half to give the U of M a 50-44 lead, then two more after halftime. Senior Kedren Johnson will take the floor (if his right shoulder holds up) when Tarrant needs a breather or gets into foul trouble. But Memphis has a point guard this season; let there be no debate.

• The Lawson brothers are ready for college ball. One of the things I watch in freshmen is how much standing they do (on the floor, when the clock is running). Good basketball allows for very little standing at either end. Dedric and especially K.J. do not stand. Dedric (the younger brother) dribbled behind his back in transition at midcourt before finding a teammate for a dunk. K.J. slashed from one wing to another on possessions he never touched the ball. In terms of size, each player is a "tweener" (Dedric between small forward and power forward, K.J. between shooting guard and small forward). The hope is that this will diversify coach Josh Pastner's rotation, allowing different units (large or small) around each or both of the Lawsons.

• Perimeter defense must improve. The Tigers are small, with only three players taller than 6'7". There will be games in which they're outsized and it shows in the paint. What they can't allow is high-volume scoring from beyond the arc. The Magicians were six for 10 from three-point range tonight, getting too many clean looks, particularly early in the game. Pastner has a bundle of guards at his disposal. He should start those (along with Tarrant) who close on shooters the best. Strong perimeter defense leads to transition opportunities, and transition basketball will be the style this Tiger team must employ if it hopes to improve on last season's 18-14 downer.

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