Saturday, December 23, 2017

Tigers 83, Loyola (MD) 71

Posted By on Sat, Dec 23, 2017 at 2:26 PM

"We're certainly glad to get this one over with."

Memphis coach Tubby Smith relishes every victory, but not so much losses for his son, G.G. The conflicting emotions surged Saturday at FedExForum when, for the second time in his 27-year career, Smith led a team against one coached by G.G. The Tigers endured yet another poor start — they trailed by 12 points midway through the first half — and finished the game on a 19-6 tear after Loyola took a 65-64 lead with 4:53 left to play. The win improves the Tiger record to 9-3 and gives Memphis its first 9-0 start to a home schedule since the Final Four season of 2007-08.
click to enlarge Father embraces son.
  • Father embraces son.

"I thought [G.G.] did a fantastic job today," said the elder Smith, "getting his kids to play hard, play the right way, play with intensity. We had a tough time guarding them. We hunkered down and guarded the three better than we have all year long. That was the difference in the ball game: our defensive intensity."

With senior forward Jimario Rivers absent for a second straight game — he continues to suffer headaches a week after a concussion in the Louisville game — junior Raynere Thornton and freshman David Nickelberry filled minutes capably, Thornton putting up the team's third double-double (16 points and 11 rebounds) of the season.

Reserve guard Malik Rhodes converted a three-point play to regain the lead for Memphis (67-65) with 4:46 left in the game. Nickelberry then found Thornton inside and followed with his own layup after a steal by Jeremiah Martin to seal the win. Nickelberry finished with a season-high 10 points, six rebounds, and five assists in 30 minutes. Martin tied his career high with 26 points (the third time he's scored that amount this season), hitting three of six three-point attempts and nine of 12 free throws. Junior forward Kyvon Davenport contributed 14 points in 36 minutes of action.

"[Coach Smith] didn't say it exactly, but we got the message, the way his eyes were," said Martin. "He didn't want to lose to his son." As for the growing impact made by Nickelberry, Martin saw it coming. "I'm harder on David, because I know what he's capable of. Freshman year, there's not a lot that comes your way like it did in high school."

"I knew I needed to  play a bigger role for this team," added Nickelberry.

"We've worked really hard on [Nickelberry] being under control," said Tubby Smith. "That's what he does best: pass the ball. And learning to defend; he's grown in that area. He can see over people. I'm proud of him."

Big picture, Smith sees his team developing, particularly on the defensive end, with conference play looming (December 31st). "We took a step back in rebounding," Smith acknowledged. "They outrebounded us [35-31]. We've gotten better defensively. The game's changed; you can't be [too] physical. We've recruited some big guys and think we can bang inside. But the best thing about this team is that it's adapting. It's very versatile. We have the ability to overcome adversity. That's what I'm impressed with the most about this team."

The Tigers shot 53 percent for the game and held the Greyhounds to 23 percent (5 for 22) from three-point range. Chuck Champion led Loyola (now 2-9) with 16 points, one of five Greyhounds in double figures on the scoreboard.

The Tigers return to FedExForum next Thursday for their final nonconference game of the season. Tipoff against LSU is scheduled for 8 p.m.

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