Saturday, January 28, 2017

Tigers 57, East Carolina 50

Posted By on Sat, Jan 28, 2017 at 6:09 PM

Triple-doubles are rare in college basketball, particularly the variety delivered by K.J. Lawson Saturday afternoon at FedExForum. The Tigers' freshman forward scored 12 points, established a new personal high with 19 rebounds . . . and missed 18 shots. (Tiger coach Tubby Smith made the case that "he got back seven of 'em," Lawson's offensive rebounds making him merely five-of-16 from the field instead of an atrocious five-of-23.) Memphis survived its ugliest half of the season — 19 points and 25-percent shooting in the first twenty minutes — to beat ECU and improve to 16-6 (6-3 in the American Athletic Conference). Top scorer Dedric Lawson didn't have a solitary point in the first half, but finished the game with eight to go along with 14 rebounds.

The point total is the Tigers' lowest in a win this season. They shot 30 percent from the field, not all that surprising as the Pirates entered the game as one of the tightest defending teams in the country (38-percent opponents' field-goal-percentage). "I was impressed in watching tape, how hard East Carolina plays," said Smith. "We knew it would be a dog fight. When you have a rim-protector like Andre Washington, it makes a big difference. But we've got a good rim protector, too, in Jeremiah Martin."
click to enlarge K.J. Lawson - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • K.J. Lawson

The mention of his point guard as a shot blocker drew some chuckles from gathered media, but Smith wasn't exaggerating Saturday. The sophomore from Mitchell High School blocked three shots (two fewer than Washington), set a career high with six steals, and committed only one turnover in 40 minutes of action.

"The point of attack is always important," said Smith. "Jeremiah is long enough, quick enough, and smart enough. He took some chances. Success can sometimes make you think you can do it more often than you should. Continue to look for those opportunities to force a turnover. Not many times can a player take the ball off someone at this level. The team usually creates steals."

Memphis trailed 22-19 at halftime. Markel Crawford scored his first points of the game — a two-pointer, followed by a three-pointer, each from the right side — to seize the lead for the Tigers (30-27) just over four minutes into the second half. Dedric Lawson connected with his older brother for a breakaway dunk, then followed with his own field goal to extend the Tigers' lead to 41-32 with 12 minutes to play. A pair of free throws by K.J. Lawson made it 51-40 with 5:37 to go and the U of M cruised — as best you can define such in as ugly a game as this one — the rest of the way.

"We weren't screening well," said Smith. "We weren't utilizing the screens properly. We weren't able to get into our up-tempo press because we couldn't make shots. You're always in retreat mode. We weren't pushing the ball up the floor or attacking the paint. We were trying to shoot [the ball] over them, and that wasn't going to work."

Junior forward Jimario Rivers scored 15 points for the Tigers, making the team now 7-0 when Rivers scores at least 10.

Kentrell Barkley and Jeremy Sheppard led ECU with 13 points each. The Pirates are now 10-12 (2-7 in the AAC).

The Tigers travel to Florida for a pair of games next week, Thursday at USF and Saturday at UCF.


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