Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Tigers 86, USF 74

Posted By on Wed, Jan 31, 2018 at 9:48 PM

Any path the Tigers might take to the NIT requires them sweeping four games (combined) against the two weakest teams in the American Athletic Conference. Wednesday night at USF, Memphis secured the first of these victories to improve to 14-8 on the season and 5-4 in AAC play.
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Junior point guard Jeremiah Martin scored 25 points — his tenth 20-point game this season — and handed out nine assists to lead the way for the Tigers and help end a two-game losing streak. The win is only the Tigers' second in eight games away from FedExForum. USF drops to 8-15 (1-9) with the loss.

Junior forward Kyvon Davenport had his fifth double-double of the season (18 points, 11 rebounds) and freshman Jamal Johnson emerged from a slump with 18 points for Memphis. The Tigers led by 10 at halftime (42-32), a margin the Bulls were unable to close in the second half.

David Collins led USF with 21 points before fouling out late in the game.

The Tigers travel to East Carolina — the AAC's other weak sister — this Saturday to face the Pirates. ECU lost to Tulane in overtime Wednesday to fall to 8-13.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

#9 Cincinnati 62, Tigers 48

Posted By on Sat, Jan 27, 2018 at 8:49 PM

The most consistent quality of a good basketball team is a strong defense. The Cincinnati Bearcats have climbed into the nation's top 10 with an oxygen-depleting defense that, entering Saturday's game at FedExForum, allows opponents merely 56.6 points per game. The 9th-ranked Bearcats held Memphis eight points under that average, allowing the Tigers only 14 field goals and, more telling, just four assists. You cannot pass the ball through a defender. Memphis learned this lesson for a second time this season as Cincinnati improved to 19-2 and a perfect 8-0 in the American Athletic Conference.

"We played more aggressive and assertive in the second half," said Tiger point guard Jeremiah Martin, who led Memphis with 20 points exactly a week after a violent fall injured his right hip in a loss at Tulsa. "We stopped them 11 out of 12 [possessions during one stretch], but we have to do even more to beat a team like this." The loss is only the second the Tigers have suffered this season when Martin scores 20 points.
Jeremiah Martin looking for a passing lane. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jeremiah Martin looking for a passing lane.

Cincinnati held the Tigers to 29-percent shooting in taking a 34-21 lead at halftime, twenty minutes in which Memphis missed seven of eight attempts from three-point range. An 11-2 run over the first eight minutes of the second half closed the margin to four points (36-32), capped by senior forward Jimario Rivers's first three-pointer of the season. (Another highlight may be the Tigers' play-of-the-year to date: junior Kyvon Davenport pulled down a defensive rebound, dribbled the length of the floor, and dunked the ball through a crowd of Cincinnati defenders to make the score 34-28.)

The Bearcats connected on four three-pointers over a three-minute stretch to expand the lead back to double-digits (48-34), plenty to cruise over the game's final eight minutes. The Tigers' shooting percentage of 31.1 percent is their lowest this season and wasn't helped by missing 12 of 29 shots from the free-throw line. (Cincinnati committed 27 fouls.)

As for silver linings, Memphis played Cincinnati all but even (28-27 Bearcats) in the second half, not quite a month after losing to the same team by 34 points on the road. The largest crowd of the Tigers' season to date — 12,223 announced — played a role in closing the gap, at least according to two of the principals.

"We really appreciate the crowd," said Tiger coach Tubby Smith. "They did a fantastic job, and really helped our guys raise their intensity. We bounced back and competed in the second half."

"It was kinda new to us," added Martin. "We have our loyal fans, but the atmosphere [tonight], they helped us. It's like having a sixth guy on the floor."

Senior forward Gary Clark led Cincinnati with 18 points and pulled down nine rebounds. Jacob Evans added 14. Kareem Brewton came off the bench and scored 10 points in 36 minutes for Memphis. (Starter Raynere Thornton played only six minutes and, according to Smith, was partly affected by a recent death in his family.)

The Tigers dropped to 13-8 with the loss and are now 4-4 in AAC play.

"If we made free throws, and cut back on turnovers against one of the best defensive teams in the country, we're capable," said Smith. "We just need to play more as a team. When you see only four assists, you know we're not sharing the ball like we should. We're not catching it, ready to shoot. But a lot of that has to do with Cincinnati and how hard they played."

"We can't kill ourselves over losses," added Martin. "Be positive. Get ready for South Florida." The Tigers travel to Tampa for their next game where they'll play USF Wednesday.

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Monday, January 22, 2018

The Three Types of Tiger Basketball Fans

Posted By on Mon, Jan 22, 2018 at 8:33 AM

I moved to Memphis from New England in 1991, just in time for Penny Hardaway's two brilliant seasons as a Tiger. I began covering Tiger basketball for the Flyer in 2001, just as John Calipari was getting acquainted with barbecue and the blues. (We launched "Tiger Blue" eight years later.) I've been around my share of Tiger players and coaches, but I've spent far more time — during basketball season or otherwise — with Tiger fans. At work, in restaurants, concerts, festivals, youth soccer games . . . Tiger hoop fans are everywhere.

And I've developed a theory. As attendance has dwindled to uncomfortably sparse crowds on game nights at FedExForum, three distinctive types of Memphis Tiger basketball fans have made their presence (or lack thereof) felt. The classifications can be defined by how each group sees the Tiger program in their lives.

A) "The Tigers are our team."
These are the fans you see — with plenty of elbow room — on a Tuesday night in December when Samford is in town. They don't miss the Siena game. And a late tipoff with 10-degree temperatures and slick Memphis streets? No problem. It's the UConn game!
Our February 28, 2008 cover. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Our February 28, 2008 cover.

The Tiger A fans consider the program part of their city's functionality. They pay attention to the roster's composition — many of them intensely — and they follow recruiting reports (and rumors). They obviously prefer the Tigers winning lots of games, reaching the NCAA tournament, and playing after St. Patrick's Day. But winning isn't the reason they follow the team or, importantly, why they attend games. Memphis Tiger basketball is how these fans see themselves. And this is an important component to remember. What makes any of us Memphians? The zip code on our mail? Our high school alma mater? The college we attended? What about the college basketball team we call our own?

B) "The Tigers are my team."
For lack of a better (or kinder) term, Tiger B fans are selfish. They are passionate — many of them outwardly emotional — about the Tiger program. They are the most frequent voices you hear on local call-in radio shows. And they are extraordinarily hard to please. Whether it's memories (or stories they've heard) about 1973, 1985, and 2008, or Penny Hardaway highlights, or John Calipari's coming-and-going, Tiger B fans place the program's standard of excellence beyond the reach of nearly every program between Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Tucson, Arizona.

Not that long ago, Memphis won an astonishing 64 consecutive conference games. Trouble was (for Tiger B fans), each of those games featured an opponent from Conference USA. So what's the big deal? That level of play won't help the Tigers come March. (Memphis reached the Sweet 16 four straight years during this stretch, the Elite Eight twice, and played for the national title in 2008.)

McDonald's All-Americans are the desired recruits among this group of fans. (At least those left over when Duke is finished making calls.) And when a local talent chooses to play elsewhere (see Leron Black or Chris Chiozza), it's verifiable proof that the Memphis program has "lost the city." So get rid of the coach. Tiger B fans will boycott games, convinced their empty seats will somehow convince that McDonald's All-American to sign with Memphis. Sign up, Tyler Harris!

Bless Tiger B fans for their visions and dreams. Sympathize for them as reality continues to unfold, one winter after another.

C) "The Tigers are a team."
I've never witnessed a basketball crowd like the one I was part of on February 23, 2008, when an undefeated Memphis team — ranked first in the country — hosted second-ranked Tennessee (second-ranked Tennessee!) at FedExForum. There have been Grizzly playoff games (particularly in 2011 and 2013) when the building actually shook. But no more than it did during pregame introductions of that Tiger-Vol showdown, when — for two hours — FedExForum was the center of college basketball's universe. The arena was packed that night, and the 17,000 inside the arena were boosted by a few thousand more watching in clubs on Beale Street.

Memphis Tiger basketball in 2008 was a happening. Games were events, particularly once the team topped the national rankings in late January. If you didn't know the previous night's score (and the team Memphis had beaten), you weren't paying attention to Bluff City life. Happenings and events draw crowds. Tiger C fans stir when the games matter in a larger context. And games against Mercer, Samford, and Bryant in December don't matter beyond a coaching staff's mission to teach and develop players. Tiger C fans will return, and they're critical to selling out FedExForum. But it will take the program becoming, once again, a happening. To the casual eye, this seems a long way to climb.

The Tigers will host Cincinnati — a Top-20 team, one of two in the AAC — this Saturday at FedExForum. With a 5 p.m. tipoff and no NFL playoffs on the air, I'm betting we'll see the first crowd of 10,000 fans to cheer the Tigers this season. (Memphis ranks sixth in the AAC with an average announced attendance of 5,943.) A Memphis win would be a monumental upset, considering the Bearcats won by 34 points in the teams' first meeting just four weeks ago. Should the Tigers pull off the victory, count on lots of B and C fans joining the As on Beale Street. Should form hold, listen to the Bs (they're loud) try and persuade the Cs as they stroll back to their cars, March getting closer, but the madness miles and miles away.

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Saturday, January 20, 2018

Tulsa 64, Tigers 51

Posted By on Sat, Jan 20, 2018 at 9:14 PM

The Tigers' four-game winning streak ended with a thud (somewhat literally) Saturday night in Tulsa. That's the merely bad news.

Point guard Jeremiah Martin — the Tigers' top scorer this season — left the game with 6:16 to play when he fell violently to the floor on a layup attempt. He had to be helped to the Memphis locker room by members of the team's training staff. Martin scored 14 points, ending a stretch of four 20-point games that coincided with the Tigers' winning streak.
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The loss drops Memphis to 13-7 for the season and 4-3 in the American Athletic Conference, while the Golden Hurricane improves to 11-9 (4-4). Daquan Jeffries came off the bench to lead Tulsa with 24 points and 11 rebounds, helping his team avenge a loss in FedExForum on January 6th.

The Tigers suffered a scoring drought of six minutes in the first half, allowing Tulsa to take command (33-20) by halftime. But junior forward Kyvon Davenport spurred a Tiger rally in the second half, one that closed the Tulsa lead to two points (49-47) with less than eight minutes to play. But an 8-0 run by the home team, combined with Martin's injury, deflated the comeback attempt.

Davenport led the Tigers with a season-high 21 points (along with 11 rebounds). Mike Parks added 11 points but Memphis received no scoring from its reserves.  The U of M shot a dreadful three-for-19 from three-point range and 35 percent from the field overall.

The Tigers now have a week off before returning to FedExForum where they'll host 12th-ranked Cincinnati on January 27th. The Bearcats handled Memphis easily (82-48) on New Year's Eve and improved to 17-2 with a win over East Carolina Saturday.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tigers 73, UConn 49

Posted By on Tue, Jan 16, 2018 at 10:20 PM

No team in the vast land of college basketball has won more championships over the last 20 years than the Connecticut Huskies. With four titles (1999, 2004, 2011, and 2014), UConn's recent trophy case is the envy of North Carolina, Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, and all the rest of the name-brand programs we tend to follow into late March. Any game the Memphis Tigers play against UConn is a big game.
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On a frigid Tuesday night in the Mid-South, the Tigers remained red hot — in a big game — with a 24-point beat-down of UConn. Jeremiah Martin and Mike Parks Jr. each had 21 points and 11 rebounds (both season highs for Parks) to lead Memphis in its fourth straight win and help the Tigers secure sole possession of fourth place in the American Athletic Conference. It's the first four-game winning streak in league play for the Tigers since they joined the AAC for the 2013-14 season.

The Tigers took the lead early and gained separation in the first half by holding the Huskies without a point for nearly six minutes. Memphis led 22-11 after 12 minutes of play and 32-18 at halftime. Jamal Johnson hit a three-pointer to open the second half, and the Tiger lead swelled to 20 points less than seven minutes after the break.

UConn played without its second-leading scorer, Terry Larrier (15.3 points per game), and were led by guard Jalen Adams with merely 11 points (almost eight under his season average). The Huskies dropped to 10-8 for the season (3-3 in the AAC) while the Tigers improved to 13-6 (4-2).

With his fourth straight 20-point game, Martin has emerged as a dark-horse AAC Player of the Year candidate. Martin hit eight of 16 field-goal attempts, including three of seven from three-point range. He also contributed four assists and three steals.

Kareem Brewton scored 10 points off the Tiger bench, helping Memphis shoot 50 percent for the game (28 for 56). UConn shot 38 percent from the field and a miserable 24 percent (4 for 17) from long distance.

The Tigers travel to Tulsa for their next game Saturday night. Memphis beat the Golden Hurricane, 76-67, on January 6th. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. They'll return to FedExForum on January 27th when 12th-ranked Cincinnati comes to town.

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Tigers 75, Temple 72 (OT)

Posted By on Sat, Jan 13, 2018 at 3:36 PM

The Tigers earned their first victory away from FedExForum this season Saturday afternoon, and in thrilling fashion at Temple. Kareem Brewton connected on a three-pointer from beyond 20 feet with just under a second to play in overtime to give Memphis its first road win since last February (a span of 11 games). After blowing a nine-point lead over the last nine minutes of regulation, the Tigers erased a four-point deficit in the final minute of overtime.
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The win improves Memphis to 12-6 for the season and 3-2 in American Athletic Conference play, while Temple falls to 8-9 (1-5).

Jeremiah Martin had his third straight stellar game for Memphis, scoring 26 points, dishing out six assists, and scoring a critical basket after an offensive rebound in overtime to reduce Temple's lead to two points (72-70) before Brewton's heroics. The junior from Mitchell High School has scored 28, 31, and 26 points over the Tigers' last three games, all wins over AAC foes.

Memphis won its third straight game despite committing 19 turnovers (eight of them by Martin) and allowing Temple 23 offensive rebounds.

The second half became a bizarre sequence of runs, the Tigers taking an eight-point lead (45-37) with a 13-0 run, only to allow Temple to regain the lead with a 9-0 stretch. The Tigers answered with a 10-0 run for a 55-46 lead, but the Owls responded by scoring the next nine points to tie the game. Temple forward Obi Enechionyia hit a three-pointer from the left corner to tie the game at 61 with just over a minute to play in regulation, the final points either team would score before the extra session.

Owl freshman Nate Pierre-Louis led the home team with 23 points and hit a pair of three-pointers in overtime that seemed to secure the game for Temple. But Alani Moore missed the front end of a one-and-one at the foul stripe — Temple leading 72-70 at the time — to keep the door open for Memphis. Tiger senior Jimario Rivers hit a pair of free throws with less than a second to play to provide the final three-point margin.

Brewton finished with 10 points off the bench, Mike Parks scored 12 (with seven rebounds) and Kyvon Davenport had 10 points (and eight rebounds) for Memphis.

The Tigers return to FedExForum Tuesday night to host Connecticut. The Huskies beat Tulane Saturday to improve to 10-7 (3-2). Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Tigers 96, Tulane 89

Posted By on Tue, Jan 9, 2018 at 9:36 PM

Tubby Smith sees progress. The Tiger coach watched his team score its most points this season Tuesday night . . . while also giving up its most. But during his postgame press conference, Smith emphasized that his club is (1) taking better shots, (2) limiting who handles the ball and how much, and (3) playing more unselfish basketball. Five Tigers scored at least 10 points (and one scored 31) as Memphis evened its American Athletic Conference record at 2-2 and improved to 11-6 for the season.
Tubby Smith
  • Tubby Smith

"We're trying to figure out what we do best," noted Smith. "Everybody understanding their roles."

The Tigers played their best opening half of the season, putting up 50 points in taking a 19-point lead over the Green Wave.  They shot 58 percent and thoroughly dominated where it often matters most, pulling down more than twice the number of rebounds (22) of their opponent (10).

Impact play from Mike Parks (16 points on seven-of-nine shooting), Kyvon Davenport (15 points in just 18 minutes), Jimario Rivers (12 points off the bench), Jamal Johnson (10 points), and Kareem Brewton (seven points and seven rebounds off the bench) supported another stellar game from Jeremiah Martin. The junior point guard played every minute of the game and scored a career-high 31 points, hitting all 15 of his shots from the foul line. It was the sixth 20-point game of the season for Martin. He's the only Tiger to score as many as 20 in a contest this season.

"Team effort," emphasized Martin. "We can't do it by ourselves. We haven't started thinking about seeding [in the AAC tournament]. Just trying to get better. We may not be the most talented team, but we play hard, and try to do the little things."

The Tigers got sloppy with the ball late in the game and a flurry of three-pointers by Tulane (particularly Jordan Cornish) closed the Memphis lead to five points (91-86) with 30 seconds to play. But Davenport made a key steal and the Tigers hit their free throws to secure their 11th win in 12 home games this season. The loss drops Tulane to 11-5 (2-2).

"Our guys stuck with the game plan for the most part," said Smith. "We got balanced scoring. We did a good job defensively in the first half, really challenged shots. [Jeremiah] was locked in from the beginning of the game. We probably should have gotten him some rest, but we needed his steadiness."

Parks had his second-straight 16-point game after not scoring 10 in the Tigers' first 15 games of the season. "I knew I had a big role to fill," he said. "They really didn't have a big guy last year. And I'm starting to rise."

"[Parks] allows Jeremiah and other players to flow smoothly," noted Smith, "because they're not double-teamed. We can get opposing players in foul trouble by attacking the basket."

Tulane's Cameron Reynolds was held to 11 points and four rebounds, considerably below his averages of 16.7 and 6.7. Melvin Frazier led the Green Wave with 28 points.

The Tigers travel to Temple Saturday in search of their first win away from FedExForum (they're 0-5). The Owls lost to Tulane (85-75) on December 28th. Memphis has not won at Temple since the 2013-14 season, its first as a member of the AAC.

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Monday, January 8, 2018

Memphis Tigers Midseason Report

Posted By on Mon, Jan 8, 2018 at 9:47 AM

The 2017-18 Tigers passed their season's midpoint in Saturday's win over Tulsa. Sixteen regular-season games in the books with 15 to play. Is that proverbial glass half-empty (it's much emptier if you're counting fans at FedExForum on game nights) or half-full (if five or six Tigers played their best on the same night . . .)? A few quick observations — and lingering questions — from year two of the Tubby Smith era in Memphis.

What is this team's strength? The Tigers rank ninth in the American Athletic Conference in scoring (68.7 points per game), seventh in scoring defense (70.1), ninth in field-goal percentage (43 percent), and 11th in field-goal percentage defense (43 percent). Memphis is 11th in rebounding and sixth in assists among the 12 AAC teams.

Coach Tubby Smith likes his team's adaptability, its resilience. The Tigers have, indeed, shown character in coming from behind at halftime in six of their 10 wins to date. After a dreadful showing in their league opener at Cincinnati, the Tigers looked better at UCF, then like a different team (thank you, Jeremiah Martin) in beating Tulsa last weekend. This may become a team remembered less for its numbers than for its comportment and backbone. Let's hope so.
LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

The near-empty arena has become a vicious circle of gloom for the Tiger program. I've developed a theory about modern Tiger fandom, one I'll elaborate about later this month. But however Tiger fans are classified — or classify themselves — they are a contributing factor in this once-proud program's downward spiral. Smith and his staff may have their shortcomings as recruiters — they've yet to land what would be called a prize by those contending for NCAA tournament berths — but it's hard to convince a blue-chipper to commit to playing in an arena where he sees more than 10,000 empty seats, however well the Tigers might play that night. Do fans return when the Tigers start winning? Will the Tigers start winning when fans return? Will Tyler Harris bring fans to the FedExForum upper deck? Or do fans need to be in the upper deck for Tyler Harris to become a Tiger? These are the kind of riddles Tiger basketball has become. It's a disjointed, identity-shy enterprise right now.

Jeremiah Martin is a good college point guard, but can he be this team's Alpha? The pride of Mitchell High School has continued to improve over the course of his third college season. Martin has made more three-pointers in 16 games this season (27) than he made in 32 games as a sophomore (24). But to ask Martin to be The Guy may be unfair. Remember how heavy Joe Jackson's mood felt for four years? And Jackson's teams were winning regularly, reaching the NCAA tournament. Point guard — particularly one required to score — is the hardest position in college basketball, and few have the  internal strength to handle such responsibility while also serving as the face of the program (among players). Martin looked tired against Cincinnati and UCF. Then he looked like an AAC Player of the Year candidate (28 points and eight assists) in the win over Tulsa. You get the feeling the 2017-18 Tigers will go as far as Martin goes. I just wonder if Martin likes that fact.
Kyvon Davenport - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Kyvon Davenport

• Smith has said he's done more teaching this season than in any other of his career. And the man's been doing this 27 years. The Tigers have seven first-year players in his regular rotation (players averaging at least 10 minutes per game). The players are teaching Smith, too. What can he expect on game night, and can he expect it consistently? The Tigers' rookie of the year, hands down, is Kyvon Davenport. The junior transfer has averaged 12.6 points (second on the team to Martin) and 5.8 rebounds (tops on the squad). Only two other AAC players have averaged as many points and rebounds: Tulane's Cameron Reynolds and Tulsa's Junior Etou. Davenport has scored at least 10 points in 14 of the Tigers' 16 games. It's hard to imagine what the team's 10-6 record would be without this prize from Gainesville, Georgia. It will be fun to see how Davenport holds up in league play.

• In 26 full seasons as a head coach, Smith has had only two losing seasons. His 2013-14 Texas Tech squad went 14-18 and then 13-19 the next year. Then, of course, in 2015-16, Smith led the Red Raiders to the NCAA tournament with a record of 19-13 and was named national coach of the year by The Sporting News. The 66-year-old coach has seen adversity. But Memphis ain't Lubbock.

In looking at the remainder of the Tigers' schedule, there aren't six automatic wins, the number necessary to avoid a losing campaign, which would be the first for Memphis since 1999-2000. As of Monday, the Tigers' RPI ranking is 148 (out of 351 Division I teams). The only AAC teams you'll find ranked lower are South Florida (320) and East Carolina (324). The good news for Memphis is that the Bulls and Pirates will be on the opposing bench twice each before the end of the regular season. Beyond those meetings, every opponent will be a test. If the Tigers are to capture any national attention before tournament play, it would be with an upset at FedExForum of 14th-ranked Cincinnati (January 27th) or 5th-ranked Wichita State (February 6th).

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Saturday, January 6, 2018

Tigers 76, Tulsa 67

Posted By on Sat, Jan 6, 2018 at 6:27 PM

Jeremiah Martin understands the weight he carries for the 2017-18 Memphis Tigers. And he knows his performances in the Tigers' first two American Athletic Conference games — a combined 12 points, three assists, and four turnovers — won't allow this team to be what it might, whatever that standard may be. Saturday at FedExForum, Martin played like an all-conference guard, an AAC Player of the Year candidate. The junior from Mitchell High School scored a career-high 28 points and handed out eight assists (twice his number of turnovers), numbers that would have been even higher had he not been limited to 12 minutes in the first half because of a pair of fouls.
Jeremiah Martin - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jeremiah Martin

"I've been talking with my high school coach, and my mom," said Martin. "I met with Coach [Tubby] Smith yesterday. I hadn't been playing well. But we put in a game plan for today and perfected it." Martin spearheaded a 22-4 Tiger run over the game's final 10 minutes, feeding junior center Mike Parks on consecutive possessions to give Memphis a 57-56 lead with just over eight minutes to play, a lead the Tigers would not relinquish. Parks scored a season-high 16 points, all of them in the second half, hitting seven of nine field-goal attempts and pulling down a team-high seven rebounds.

"[Martin's] our captain, our leader," said Parks. "When he sparks, we're all gonna spark." Parks emphasized an aggressive approach, particularly on the offensive end, direction he's been given by Smith if he is to be a player of impact during league play.

"It was a good win for us," said Smith, "against a team that has been playing extremely well. I'm proud of the way our guys responded. We've been struggling the last two games. But we played a good 30 minutes at Central Florida [Wednesday]. We have so many new guys. I'm proud of the way they fought back and didn't panic."

The win improves Memphis to 10-6 for the season and gives the Tigers their first AAC victory, while dropping the Golden Hurricane to 10-6 and delivering Tulsa its first league loss (3-1).

Kyvon Davenport scored 11 points for the Tigers but was limited to 25 minutes by foul trouble. Freshman Jamal Johnson scored 10  points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked three shots. The Tigers made 50 percent of their field-goal attempts while holding Tulsa to 36 percent. After losing the rebounding battle in the first half (20-15), the Tigers controlled the glass in the second (18-11). The Tigers outscored Tulsa 38-24 in the paint and 15-2 on the fast break.

"We took care of the basketball," noted Smith. (The Tigers had 10 turnovers, half their total of assists.) "That's the key, and we defended. We challenged them at the rim. We became more physical inside. I knew we were more physical today because we had some foul issues. The last three games, we hadn't done that. It was a huge plus today."

Senior Jimario Rivers came off the bench and played 24 minutes, making an impact with a block and steal on the defensive end. Smith acknowledged that the forward's head injury (during the Louisville game on December 16th) took more out of him than the Tiger training staff originally thought. Rivers is counted upon to share some of the leadership weight with Saturday's star.

"We talked about staying positive," said Smith. "It's easy to get negative; when you're losing, that happens. It brings out the character in you. [Jeremiah] said, 'Coach, we're gonna be okay. If you can just be a little more positive, we'll be alright.' We had a conversation about execution. There's been so much teaching with this team, the most I've ever done. Eleven new guys. That's the way it is, but we're getting there."

The Tigers return to FedExForum Tuesday night to host Tulane. The Green Wave lost to Tulsa (65-56) on New Year's Eve. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

UCF 65, Tigers 56

Posted By on Wed, Jan 3, 2018 at 8:06 PM

There was a time — not long ago — when the Memphis Tigers dominated the UCF Knights. When Memphis beat UCF last January at FedExForum, it extended a Tiger winning streak in the series to 11 games (dating back to the 2011-12 season). Those days appear to be over.

In pulling away over the game's final eight minutes tonight in Orlando, UCF extended the Tigers' losing streak to three games and earned its third straight win in the series (including a 30-point gut-kicker in last March's American Athletic Conference tournament). The Knights improve to 11-4 with the victory (2-1 in the AAC), while the Tigers drop to 9-6 (0-2). Memphis has lost its first two league games for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
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A.J. Davis led UCF with 16 points and Ceasar DeJesus added 14. Junior guard Kareem Brewton led Memphis with 15 points off the bench while fell transfer Kyvon Davenport scored 11.

The Tigers led at halftime (22-21) despite shooting 32 percent and committing 10 turnovers during the game's first 20 minutes. They limited the Knights to one-of-11 shooting from long range, only to see UCF hit five of seven three-point attempts after halftime.

The Tigers shot 39 percent from the field and didn't get their normal boost from point guard Jeremiah Martin (four points on one-of-six shooting). Freshman Jamal Johnson hit a pair of three-pointers to give Memphis a 33-30 lead early in the second half, but they were Johnson's only two field goals of the game.

The Tigers return home Saturday for their first AAC game this season at FedExForum. Tipoff against Tulsa is scheduled for 3 p.m.
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