Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Tigers 82, Nicholls State 46

Posted By on Tue, Jan 5, 2016 at 10:05 PM

Exhibition season returned to FedExForum Tuesday night. After spotting Nicholls State a 16-11 lead, Memphis outscored the Colonels 39-5 over a 12-minute stretch to secure the game by halftime. Ironically enough, the 36-point win may represent the low point of the Tigers' season, if not the entire seven-year era under coach Josh Pastner.

During a week college basketball has emerged from the shadow of its more popular gridiron competition, roughly 7,000 fans chose to spend two hours of their week with the U of M basketball team. Three days after the Tigers fought gallantly against undefeated South Carolina on the road, they played a team that has somehow won four of its 15 games, but would face stiff competition in the opponent Memphis actually hosted in an exhibition game last November (LeMoyne-Owen). (39-5 runs don't happen against competent Division I basketball teams.)
click to enlarge Dedric Lawson - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dedric Lawson

Announced attendance for the game was 10,290, the lowest figure among the Tigers' 12 home games to date. (Only twice has a crowd larger than 12,000 been announced, one of those with Ole Miss in the building.) The Tigers' senior leader, Shaq Goodwin, served a one-game suspension for tripping an opposing player (from the Tiger bench) in the loss at South Carolina, proving Goodwin at least knows his team's schedule well. As for his leadership qualities . . . . 

Freshman Nick Marshall started in place of Goodwin and contributed 12 points and six rebounds in 23 minutes. Four more Tigers reached double figures in the scoring column: Avery Woodson (15 points), Ricky Tarrant Jr. (12), Dedric Lawson (12), and Trahson Burrell (12).

The small crowd's most vibrant cheers came late in the first half when Sam Craft made his college basketball debut. The junior tailback for the Memphis football team converted a second-half layup and three-pointer in his first official action on the hardwood since his days as a two-sport star at Craigmont High School.

"It's like a dream come true," said Craft. "It felt good to be back out there. I was nervous. Every game I play, football or basketball, I'm nervous. But you shake off the jitters and just try and play basketball."

"This is how teams are really made," said Marshall, creating a positive spin on the one-sided affair. "It's not so tight. We actually get to have fun out there. It was nice to see everybody smiling and everybody get [on the floor], especially Sam." Late in the game, the Tiger lineup featured a scholarship baseball player (Caleb Wallingford) and football player (Craft) matching up against the Colonels. Not the kind of thing you see in a typical January college hoops clash.

Come Saturday, conference play is here for good. No more child's play. (If you didn't see any of the Kansas- Oklahoma game Monday night, enjoy the highlights. It doesn't have to be this way.) The Tigers, now 10-4, travel to Connecticut to face the Huskies. When they return on January 13th, Temple will be on the other bench. Football and baseball players beware.

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