Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Tigers 95, Incarnate Word 71

Posted By on Wed, Dec 21, 2016 at 10:24 PM

Lawson double-doubles — pick your brother — have become commonplace at FedExForum this season. Not so much scoring outbursts from freshman guard Keon Clergeot. Wednesday night, 7,919 devoted Tiger fans saw both (or all three, if we're being literal).

Sophomore forward Dedric Lawson led the way (again) with 25 points and 12 rebounds, his 10th double-double of the season and 27th of his career (one more than Joey Dorsey had in four seasons). Redshirt-freshman K.J. Lawson added 20 points and 12 rebounds, the sixth time he's doubled up his younger brother's stat-line combo. That was the commonplace.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Keon Clergeot

Into the playing-time void left by center Chad Rykhoek, though, stepped Clergeot. With the senior center watching from the bench, a boot hugging his dislocated left ankle, Clergeot scored 23 points in 21 minutes, hitting six of seven shots from the field, including all four of his attempts from beyond the three-point arc. Shortly after UIW climbed within two points (21-19) midway through the first half, Clergeot scored seven points in 24 seconds, hitting three-pointers on consecutive possessions and draining a free throw after being fouled on the second. (Clergeot hit all seven of his foul shots for the game.) Over a four-minute stretch, Memphis extended its lead from two points to 14 (34-20), and managed to cruise the remainder of the contest.

"It's a relief," said point guard Jeremiah Martin, when asked about Clergeot's impact from the bench. "It takes pressure off me. I can pick up my defensive intensity, play a little harder." Martin had his lightest workload (29 minutes) in five games, but still led Memphis with seven assists.

"He's my roommate," added Dedric Lawson, "and I told him to be ready today, that I thought his number would get called. He did what he's supposed to do."

"He's just got to keep his head clear," said K.J. Lawson. "When a guy comes out of high school averaging 25 points, you just gotta take it game by game. Soak in the knowledge and be ready to play when your number's called."

Markel Crawford added 11 points to help the Tigers improve to 9-3 in their final tune-up before American Athletic Conference play opens next week. UIW falls to 5-6 for the season.

"We came ready to play, focused," said Tiger coach Tubby Smith. "It's easy to look past a game like this, especially with the holiday break. Incarnate Word was aggressive; I knew they'd scrap. I like the way our team played, especially Keon. He's been struggling, but he stepped up tonight and played extremely well."

Smith is now coordinating a limited roster, forced to start junior Jimario Rivers and boost the playing time of reserves like Clergeot and Craig Randall. From mixing defenses to a continued emphasis on moving the ball, the veteran coach seems prepared for the heightened challenges ahead. "For me, a win is giving it your all," he said. "We need to improve our outside shooting, continue to share the basketball. We're going to have to improve between now and December 27th [when SMU visits]."

Frustrated with a first-half possession in which his team did not share the basketball as expected, Smith slammed the scorer's table with his right hand. Like Clergeot's shooting, it was an atypical outburst for the 2016-17 Memphis Tigers. When asked about his display after the game, Smith smiled before answering: "I was trying to wake up the crowd."

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Boca Raton Bowl: Western Kentucky 51, Tigers 31

Posted By on Tue, Dec 20, 2016 at 10:16 PM

Mike Norvell's first season as coach of the Memphis Tigers ended Tuesday night in South Florida. Facing one of college football's top-scoring teams, the U of M was unable to answer with enough offense of its own. Western Kentucky tailback Anthony Wales carried the ball 35 times for 253 yards and three touchdowns (while also catching four passes for 84 yards) and Hilltopper quarterback Mike White passed for 336 yards and three scores to lead the Conference USA champs. Western Kentucky accumulated 598 yards of total offense, the seventh time this season Memphis has allowed more than 500 yards in a game.

In scoring 31 points, Memphis finished with a season total of 505, only the second time (after last season's 522) the Tigers have topped 500 points in a campaign. Wide receiver Anthony Miller played a starring role (again) with 11 catches for 151 yards and three touchdowns, giving him season totals of 95 receptions, 1,434 yards, and 14 touchdowns, all single-season marks for the Memphis program. Tiger quarterback Riley Ferguson threw for 372 yards and four touchdowns, establishing a new Tiger record for touchdowns in a season with 32. But he also threw an interception, lost a fumble, and missed a second-half series after injuring his left ankle. (He returned after the injury and threw a 45-yard scoring strike to Miller.)

Memphis took an early 7-0 lead on a screen pass Tony Pollard took 45 yards down the right sideline. But the Hilltoppers scored touchdowns on their next four possessions to take a 28-17 lead into the halftime break. The Tigers' all-conference kicker, Jake Elliott, hit the left upright on a 43-yard field-goal attempt early in the second quarter, costing Memphis precious points in a game dominated by the two offenses.

White connected with Taywan Taylor for a 41-yard touchdown early in the third quarter to extend WKU's lead to 35-17. Taylor finished the game with nine grabs for 144 yards.

The Memphis offense turned the ball over on downs on its first possession of the second half then lost a fumble on its second, leading to a three-yard touchdown run by Wales that put the game out of reach (41-17) midway through the third quarter.

Western Kentucky thoroughly dominated the ground game, rushing for 262 yards to the Tigers' 73.

The loss drops Memphis to 8-5 for the season while Western Kentucky finishes with eight straight wins and an 11-3 record.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Tigers 99, Oklahoma 94 (OT)

Posted By on Sat, Dec 17, 2016 at 2:19 PM

Memphis earned what could be called its most impressive victory in three years this afternoon in Norman, Oklahoma. A team not known for its prowess at the free-throw line hit 28 of 32 from the stripe, most importantly six of six in the final minute of regulation and four of four in the final minute of overtime to earn its eighth win of the season. Sophomore forward Dedric Lawson introduced himself to a national-TV audience by scoring 26 points and pulling down 12 rebounds in 43 minutes of action, his ninth double-double of the season (and 26th of his career).

The win will certainly be dedicated to senior center Chad Rykhoek, who went down late in the first half with what appeared to be a serious injury to his left ankle. (Rykhoek left the floor on a rolling cart.) The Tigers' bench scored only eight points, all of them by Rykhoek's replacement, junior Jimario Rivers.

The Sooners almost shot the Tigers out of the building in the first half, hitting 17 of their first 21 field-goal attempts, including 13 in a row over an eight-minute stretch to take a 13-point lead. But the Tigers rolled with the punches, closing the gap to nine (47-38) at halftime.

Memphis stayed within 10 points throughout the second half, finally closing to a single-possession deficit inside the game's final seven minutes. Sophomore point guard Jeremiah Martin stole a Sooner pass and drew a foul in transition with just under a minute to play and Memphis down 77-76. He hit both free throws to give the Tigers their first lead of the game. (Martin entered the game shooting 50 percent from the foul line this season.) Martin hit two more free throws and Markel Crawford connected on four of four down the stretch as Oklahoma intentionally fouled to stop the clock. But Sooner guard Jordan Woodard slung in a three-pointer off the glass from the left wing with less than a second to play to force overtime.

Martin opened scoring in the extra session by converting a three-point play. Rivers followed with a dunk, but Oklahoma tied things at 89 on two baskets (one of them a trey) by Woodard. Memphis took the lead for good when Dedric Lawson hit a jumper from the left elbow with 2:30 to play. He and his brother, K.J. Lawson, each hit two free throws in the final minute to secure the win.

For the game, the Tigers hit 57 percent of their field-goal attempts. After its red-hot start, Oklahoma finished at merely 48 percent from the field. The Sooners fall to 6-4 for the season.

Martin finished with a career-high 25 points, Crawford added 20, and K.J. Lawson 19. Woodard led the Sooners with 22 points.

The win is the Tigers' first true road victory of the season and improves the U of M record to 8-3. Memphis returns home to play Incarnate Word at FedExForum next Wednesday. It will be the Tigers' final test before conference play opens with a home tilt against SMU on December 27th.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Monmouth 82, Tigers 79

Posted By on Tue, Dec 13, 2016 at 11:42 PM

Tiger sophomore Jeremiah Martin has been among the most sure-handed point guards in the country this season. He entered Tuesday night's game at FedExForum with only 17 turnovers in 296 minutes of game action. But with his team down a point with less than ten seconds to play, Martin — tightly guarded along the left sideline — lost control of his footing and dribble, giving Monmouth the ball with a solitary second left on the game clock. Two Je'lon Hornbeak free throws later and Memphis had its first home loss of the season, falling to 7-3 overall. The Hawks — expected to be contenders for the MAAC crown — improved to 9-2 and have now won eight straight.

"We probably should have called timeout and set something else up," acknowledged Memphis coach Tubby Smith after the game. "We were trying to set up a pick and roll with Dedric [Lawson], maybe a lob or a bounce pass."
Jeremiah Martin - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jeremiah Martin

Smith was quick to point out that the final play was merely one instance in which his team was outplayed. "They did a good job of confusing us. They showed us some zone, then man-to-man. They're quick enough on the perimeter that they can do that and recover pretty well." Hornbeak and undersized point guard Justin Robinson each had 21 points for the Hawks, Hornbeak hitting six of seven attempts from three-point range.

The Tigers led by 10 (45-35) at halftime, Dedric Lawson showing the way with 10 points and 10 rebounds in the game's first 20 minutes. (Lawson's 25th career double-double ties him for 10th in Memphis history.) His three-pointer with 12:35 to play gave Memphis a 60-53 lead.

Over the game's next four minutes, though, the Hawks enjoyed a 15-7 run to take the lead, Austin Tilghman completing the run with a three-point play for a 68-67 Monmouth advantage.

Martin converted a three-point play of his own with 2:03 left on the clock to tie the score at 77. After Monmouth converted a free throw, Markel Crawford hit a layup to give the Tigers a 79-78 lead. The Hawks turned the ball over on the ensuing possession, but the Tigers gave it right back on an inbounds play near the end of the shot clock.

Robinson attacked the lane and drew a foul on Dedric Lawson with 14.2 seconds left. He hit both free throws to put Monmouth back on top, 80-79, setting up the final mishandled possession for Martin and the Tigers.

"They had a bunch of second-chance points [in the second half], and that really hurt us," said Smith. "We didn't box out on the weak side, and they were beating us off the dribble a lot. The post player has to help. That's where we started to lose momentum. They made some open shots, and made a nice backdoor play that caught us. We were tensing up. And we missed some open shots. When you don't match a team that's offensive-oriented like this . . . that hurts." Monmouth has scored at least 76 points in all eights games of its winning streak.

After falling two blocks shy of the fourth triple-double in Tiger history Saturday against UAB, Dedric Lawson came up just three assists shy of the achievement Tuesday night, adding 18 points and 14 rebounds. Martin matched his career-high 14 points, K.J. Lawson added 13, and Crawford 12. For the second game in a row, the quartet all played at least 36 minutes. Center Chad Rykhoek added a season-high 12 points in 18 minutes of action. Memphis shot 47 percent from the field but missed 11 of 32 free throws.

The Tigers travel to Oklahoma Saturday to face the Sooners of the Big 12. They return to FedExForum next Wednesday to host Incarnate Word of the Southland Conference.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Tigers 62, UAB 55

Posted By on Sat, Dec 10, 2016 at 3:23 PM

It felt like the Tiger basketball season began Saturday afternoon at FedExForum.

Playing in front of their biggest — certainly their loudest — crowd of the season (announced attendance: 9,424), the Tigers erased a nine-point deficit over the last 17 minutes against an old rival they hadn't seen in more than three years. "We needed every person screaming and hollering," said Memphis coach Tubby Smith after his team improved to 7-2 for the season. "That's the kind of crowd we need."
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dedric Lawson

Sophomore forward Dedric Lawson played like the All-America candidate he's becoming, scoring 24 points, pulling down 10 rebounds, and blocking eight shots. The younger of the team's Lawson brothers came within two blocks of the program's fourth triple-double and merely one block of the Tigers' single-game record of nine (held by Keith Lee and David Vaughn). Better yet, Lawson avoided foul trouble against the physical UAB front line of Chris Cokley and William Lee, not being whistled until more than 13 minutes had expired in the second half. When asked how a player blocks eight shots without committing fouls, Lawson emphasized his approach from the weak side, and his ability to time a block attempt for after the ball has left a shooter's hands.

The Blazers (now 5-5) led 29-25 at halftime and extended their lead to 36-27 over the first three minutes of the second half. But the Tigers managed a few consecutive defensive stops, allowing them to begin a lengthy run that swung the score by 16 points in their favor. Freshman swingman K.J. Lawson gave Memphis its first lead of the half (48-46) with a short jump-hook at the 8:05 mark.

A two-minute sequence that began with just under six minutes to play swung the game the Tigers' way for good. Dedric Lawson converted a driving layup for a 52-49 lead and the Tigers forced a 10-second violation upon the Blazers' inbounding the ball. Junior guard Markel Crawford converted a layup (54-49) and Dedric Lawson blocked a UAB attempt, then followed with a jumper from the right elbow for a seven-point Tiger cushion. UAB never again closed within five points.

Crawford finished the game with 16 points and was one of four Tigers (also Jeremiah Martin and the Lawson brothers) to play at least 37 minutes. "We gotta do what we have to do to win," said Smith. "These guys are playing well together. We need to get some more out of Chad [Rykhoek], Craig [Randall], and Christian [Kessee]. When we get guys in there, though, they need to be productive."

The Tigers managed to outscore a bigger team in the paint (40-28) and contributed only eight turnovers (with 14 assists on 22 field goals). Cokley led UAB with 16 points, but the Blazers shot merely 35.7 percent for the game. Memphis converted 39.3 percent from the field. Both teams were a woeful two for 12 from three-point range.

The win is the Tigers' 16th straight over the program founded by former Tiger coach Gene Bartow. The teams will meet again next season in Birmingham. UAB is among the favorites this season in Conference USA. For the Tigers' current players, it was their first taste of a regional rivalry. But Crawford recognized a difference: "It's as loud as it's been in here in a long time, so thanks to Tiger Nation for coming out."

The U of M returns to action Tuesday night when Monmouth visits FedExForum. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Ole Miss 85, Tigers 77

Posted By on Sat, Dec 3, 2016 at 2:24 PM

The Tigers traveled to Oxford, Mississippi, Saturday for their first true road test of the season. Forced to play much of the game without star forward Dedric Lawson — limited to 22 minutes by foul trouble — the U of M took the lead midway through the second half, only to surrender the contest on a 17-1 Rebel run fueled by free throws.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy
  • Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy

Memphis trailed throughout the first half when both Dedric and K.J. Lawson were forced to the bench with two fouls. A Markel Crawford three-pointer helped the Tigers close within one (27-26) with just over eight minutes to play in the half, but Ole Miss enjoyed a 10-run before Cullen Neal drained a trey to give Ole Miss a 47-37 lead at the break.

Even with Dedric Lawson sidelined, Memphis exploded in the second half, turning a 14-point deficit into a  5-point lead with a 24-5 run. A steal and dunk by Crawford gave the Tigers their first lead of the game (58-57) with just over 11 minutes to play. The lead grew to 68-64 before the Rebels took over for good. Five straight free throws gave Ole Miss a 70-68 lead and the U of M would get no closer. Both teams are now 6-2 for the season.

K.J. Lawson led Memphis with 17 points, Crawford added 16, and Jeremiah Martin had 14. Sebastian Saiz paced the Rebels with 20 points.

The Tigers will have a week off before returning to play next Saturday. Longtime rival UAB returns to FedExForum for a noon tip-off. The teams have not played since Memphis left Conference USA for the American Athletic Conference after the 2012-13 season.

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