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.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

#21 Cincinnati 82, Tigers 48

Posted By on Sun, Dec 31, 2017 at 5:02 PM

The ball dropped a few hours early on a new year of American Athletic Conference play for the Memphis Tigers. And the 21st-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats provided a 40-minute measure of the gap Memphis must close before it can again be considered a contender for the AAC title. Gary Clark scored 13 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to lead the Bearcats, and Clark is merely one of three Cincinnati starters named second-team all-conference in the preseason coaches poll (along with Kyle Washington and Jacob Evans).
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Cincinnati secured the win by halftime with a lead of 35-16. The margin expanded to 30 points merely four minutes into the second half. The Bearcats shot 52 percent from the field (and hit 9 of 18 three-point attempts) while Memphis was limited to 32 percent and missed 18 of 22 long-distance shots.

Kareem Brewton led the Tigers with 17 points off the bench. Point guard Jeremiah Martin was limited to eight points, less than half his average entering the contest. Mike Parks was the only other Tiger in double-figure scoring (10).

The loss drops Memphis to 9-5 on the season and gives the Tigers their first losing streak of the winter. Cincinnati improves to 12-2. (The game was played in Newport, Kentucky, as Cincinnati's home arena undergoes significant renovations.)

The Tigers travel to Orlando to face UCF on Wednesday before returning to FedExForum next Saturday to host Tulsa.


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Saturday, December 30, 2017

AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Iowa State 21, #19 Tigers 20

Posted By on Sat, Dec 30, 2017 at 5:41 PM

One-point losses torture. Today's defeat in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl — by that most narrow of margins — will leave a scar for certain Tigers, those like Riley Ferguson, Anthony Miller, Genard Avery, and Gabe Kuhn, who have now each played their final game in blue and gray. Playing before a sellout crowd of 57,266 on a chilly, overcast day in the Mid-South, Iowa State capitalized once more than did the home team, a third-quarter touchdown reception by game MVP Allen Lazard providing the winning point total. Lazard pulled down the catch — his 10th, tying the record for the bowl game — as he fell down behind a trio of Memphis defenders, his backside barely still in play.
Riley Ferguson - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Riley Ferguson

Lazard's game-winner came moments after Memphis linebacker Curtis Akins intercepted a Kyle Kempt pass, a turnover that seemed to preserve a 17-14 Tiger lead. But Avery — voted the Tigers' Most Outstanding Defensive Player — was penalized for roughing Kempt on the play. (The senior linebacker didn't leave his feet on the contact that knocked the Cyclone quarterback to the turf.) "I was just playing my game," said Avery during the postgame press conference. "I felt like it was a bad call."

The third 10-win season in Memphis history ends, ironically, on a two-game losing streak, the team's final record 10-3. Iowa State finishes 8-5.

"It was among our tougher challenges," said Cyclone coach Matt Campbell. "To come in here and win a game against a team that's very familiar with their environment. That's one thing that makes a bowl game a little different: usually it's at a neutral site. But that's part of the uniqueness of the game this year. Our guys were all for it. I think it adds to the lore of the win for this football team."

Trailing by one (21-20) with just over four minutes left in the game, Memphis forced the first fumbled turnover all season by the Cyclones, Iowa State tailback David Montgomery losing the ball as he fell into the end zone. (The play was confirmed after a lengthy review that left the blue side of the stadium elated and the red enraged.) But The Tigers' final drive of the game stalled at midfield, Ferguson missing his fourth-down target (senior receiver Phil Mayhue) before Memphis could get within field-goal range for kicker Riley Patterson.

"[Coach Campbell] came into the huddle and told us that he hoped the call went against us," said Cylcone linebacker Joel Lanning. "He wanted us to show people that we've learned [through adversity]. We just keep playing. Memphis is a great team, and they drove down on us pretty quick. We had to cover everything. Guys made great plays there at the end."
Mike Norvell - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Mike Norvell

"We weren't able to establish our running game today," said Memphis coach Mike Norvell. "And that allowed them to tee off on us a little bit." The Tigers allowed Ferguson to be sacked six times after allowing a total of 15 sacks over the team's first 12 games. The U of M's top rusher this season, Darrell Henderson, missed the game with a leg injury. Patrick Taylor had a pair of 20-yard runs on a drive that culminated in a field goal late in the third quarter, the final points of the ball game.

"It's been a heckuva two years," said Ferguson, voted the Tigers' Most Outstanding Offensive Player. "I've been truly blessed to play for the University of Memphis. I love my brothers, my coaches, this program. It's not the way we wanted to end it, but this is a special place, no matter what." In passing for 286 yards, Ferguson became the first Tiger quarterback to surpass 4,000 yards in a single season. His two touchdown passes Saturday set a new U of M single-season mark of 38 for the year.

Ferguson's first touchdown connection came on a screen to senior Anthony Miller, his record-breaking partner in crime. The 40th touchdown of Miller's Tiger career tied the score at 7 midway through the first quarter. (Among former Tigers, only DeAngelo Williams reached the end zone more often.) Miller was generally held in check by the Cyclone defense but finishes his senior season with new records for receptions (96) and yardage (1,462), eclipsing the standards he set in 2016.

Memphis took the lead on its first possession of the second half. Ferguson completed a four-play, 66-yard drive with a 36-yard completion to Mayhue, one the receiver signed with a brilliant juke around two Cyclone defenders. That 21-17 lead held until the Lazard game-winner. No points were scored in the fourth quarter.

One Tiger possession late in the first quarter will linger in the minds of those who ponder when, exactly, a game tilts. With the game knotted at seven points, Ferguson appeared to hit his target for a go-ahead touchdown, only for the play to be negated by an illegal-player-downfield penalty. When Riley Patterson missed a 38-yard field-goal attempt, the possession proved empty. And in one-point games, empty possessions can prove fatal.

In being held to 20 points, Memphis fell eight points shy of the first 600-point season in program history. The Tiger offense ran only 59 plays, compared with 80 for the Cyclones. The Tigers were only 3 for 12 on third-down conversions. In a one-point game, the heavy advantage Iowa State enjoyed in time of possession — 37:49 to 22:11 for Memphis — may be, for posterity's sake, the decisive factor.

"All the pieces are in place to continue to grow," said Norvell, now armed with a five-year contract extension after putting up a record of 18-8 over his first two seasons in Memphis.
"The commitment from our university, from the young men in our program, is one of the highest standards. We have to learn from these experiences. The highs, the lows. That's all part of it. These kids are going to be hungry. We have a great foundation."

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Thursday, December 28, 2017

LSU 71, Memphis 61

Posted By on Thu, Dec 28, 2017 at 10:17 PM

Memphis dropped its final nonconference game of the season Thursday night, falling to LSU at FedExForum. Freshman guard Tremont Waters led the Bayou Bengals with 18 points. The loss is the Memphis Tigers' first at home this season and drops their overall record to 9-4, while LSU improves to 9-3.
Tubby Smith - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tubby Smith

Junior forward Kyvon Davenport led Memphis with 17 points. The score was tied at halftime (36-36) after eight lead changes over the first 20 minutes.

The loss will leave Memphis with an 0-3 mark against teams from "Power 5" conferences, the Tigers having also dropped games against Alabama and Louisville.

American Athletic Conference play will open for Memphis Sunday when the Tigers visit Cincinnati. Tipoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. (The next home game for the U of M will be January 6th when Tulsa comes to town.)

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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.
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.


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Tigers 70, Siena 66

Posted By on Wed, Dec 20, 2017 at 10:46 PM

Let's call it a pattern.

The Tigers improved their home record to a spotless 8-0 Wednesday night with their victory over the Saints of Siena. But for the fifth time at FedExForum, Memphis won after trailing at halftime by at least five points. Junior forward Raynere Thornton personified the win, getting his first start of the season in place of senior forward Jimario Rivers (who is suffering concussion symptoms after a head injury Saturday against Louisville). Thornton was a nonfactor in the first half, failing to so much as get off a shot. But after halftime, the Georgia native scored 13 points (3 of 4 from the field and 6 of 10 from the foul line). An eight-point Tiger deficit swung toward a four-point Tiger win.
Tubby Smith - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tubby Smith

"No one wants to be in this situation," said Tiger coach Tubby Smith, now accustomed to his team's rocky starts. "We don't coach to keep the game close."

When asked what made the difference in his second half, Thornton seemed to deliver a half-joke: "Probably the baby powder. I couldn't hold on to the ball in the first half."

Freshman guard Jordan Horn — who entered the game averaging 2.6 points per game — came off the Siena bench and hit four of five three-point attempts in the first half to spearhead the Saints' early march. He finished the contest eight of 12 from long distance and scored a game-high 24 points in 23 minutes.

The Saints became the sixth Tiger opponent this season to make at least 10 three-pointers, connecting on 14 of 30. "We're not forcing people to put [the ball] on the floor," said Smith. "Thank goodness we had Kyvon Davenport back there protecting the basket." Davenport blocked four shots and scored 16 points for Memphis, his 10th game of the season with at least 10 in the scoring column. The junior's dunk and ensuing free throw gave the Tigers a 65-62 lead with 2:19 left in the game. His two free throws with 17 seconds left clinched the victory after Horn had pulled the Saints within a point (67-66) with his final trey of the game.

"It was a relief to get this win," said Smith. "Jordan Horn was unconscious tonight. He went to my basketball camp in Minnesota. I did too good a job of teaching him how to shoot."

Smith was pleased with Thornton's contribution, as well as freshman David Nickelberry's off the bench (seven points and six rebounds in 20 minutes). Junior point guard Jeremiah Martin tied Davenport with a team-high 16 points and Kareem Brewton scored 13 in 30 minutes off the bench.

"We were coming off a loss at Louisville, where we played bad," noted Smith. "Maybe they thought they played good. That's the challenge. We did some things well in New York [against the Cardinals], but we did some things poorly, and they showed up again today."

While the Tigers struggled to guard the perimeter, they attacked the rim offensively, getting to the free throw line for 37 shots (they made 26). Siena, on the contrary, only took eight free throws (and made six). Smith insists this team will succeed only if it plays "inside out," as perimeter shooting threats are a scarcity on the Tiger roster.

Now 8-3, Memphis will host Loyola-Maryland Saturday, with tipoff scheduled for 11 a.m.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Louisville 81, Tigers 72

Posted By on Sat, Dec 16, 2017 at 1:17 PM

It may not have been Keith Lee against Milt Wagner, but it was Memphis and Louisville. In Madison Square Garden, no less.
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Playing their third of four games in the Gotham Classic, the Tigers battled gallantly against a Cardinal team forecast to be among the nation's top 20 before Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino was fired under a cloud of scandal. Junior point guard Jeremiah Martin put Memphis up (40-38) with a driving layup to open the second half, but the Cardinals simply had too much Deng Adel and Anas Mahmoud. A pair of Adel three-pointers keyed a 17-2 run that allowed Louisville to seize control and the seven-foot Mahmoud blocked seven shots, outplaying the undersized Tiger frontcourt by himself.

A Martin jumper closed the margin to four points (60-56) with just over eight minutes to play, but Louisville answered with a 9-0 run that put the game out of reach. The Cardinals improve to 8-2 with the win while Memphis falls to 7-3. This was Louisville's 54th win over a 90-game series with Memphis that dates back to the 1948-49 season. (No future games are currently scheduled between the rivals.)

Quentin Snider led the Cardinals with 18 points while Adel added 15 (all via three-pointer) and V.J. King 16. Martin paced the Tigers with 26 points while Kyvon Davenport added 12 points and seven rebounds. Kareem Brewton scored nine points for Memphis and Mike Parks eight, but neither player was effective in the second half.

The Tigers' highlight of the game came just before halftime, when senior Jimario Rivers slammed home a one-handed dunk on a lob from Brewton to tie the game at 38. It won't otherwise be a game for the Rivers highlight film: the forward was not credited with a rebound.

Louisville shot 56 percent from three-point range, hitting 14 of 25 long-range attempts. The Tigers only hit four of 11 three-pointers and shot 45 percent overall.

Memphis returns to FedExForum Wednesday and will host Siena in its fifth of seven home games in December.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Tigers 67, Albany 58

Posted By on Tue, Dec 12, 2017 at 11:32 PM

Eight games into his first season with the Tigers, it was easy to forget that Kareem Brewton was a juco All-America last season. The junior transfer entered Tuesday night's game at FedExForum averaging merely 7.1 points per game (despite starting seven games and averaging 24.6 minutes). He had taken 26 shots from beyond the three-point line . . . and made three.

Brewton made all three of his long-distance attempts against Albany, connected on eight of 11 shots from the field overall, and led Memphis with 19 points in 17 minutes off the bench to help the Tigers improve to 7-2 on the season and a perfect 7-0 on their home floor. The victory is the Tigers' second in a four-game series they'll play as part of the Gotham Classic, their next game being Saturday in Madison Square Garden against arch-rival Louisville.
Jimario Rivers - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jimario Rivers

"The coaches have been telling me to get my palm off the ball [on my shot]," said Brewton. "Once I make the first shot, I feel like I can make every single one."

Neither team shot well to open the game, but the Tigers built a 10-point lead (25-15) before a late push by the Great Danes cut the margin to seven (29-22) at halftime. Albany tied the score at 45 midway through the second half, but a pair of dunks — the first by junior Raynere Thornton and the second by junior guard Jeremiah Martin following a steal — gave the Tigers a five-point cushion they would retain for the balance of the game. The loss is only the second of the season for Albany, now 10-2.

"Jamal [Johnson] started in [Brewton's] place the other night, but he didn't hang his head," noted Tiger coach Tubby Smith. "He came out in practice and worked to improve his shot. I was really impressed with his threes. That gave him a lot of confidence, and gave us a lot of confidence. The bench was outstanding." The Tiger reserves scored a combined 31 points against merely five by Albany's bench.

Martin scored 13 points and had four assists and five steals in 37 minutes of action. He was partly responsible for keeping Albany sharpshooter Joe Cremo under wraps (16 points on five-of-14 shooting). Senior forward Jimario Rivers added 11 points. Junior Kyvon Davenport was held under ten points (5) for the first time this season, though he pulled down a team-high seven rebounds.

The Tigers held the Great Danes to 34.4 percent shooting for the game and blocked 11 shots, four of them by Davenport.

While Memphis-Louisville doesn't hold the weight — locally, let alone nationally — it did 30 years ago, Saturday's game will be the biggest of the Tigers' nonconference schedule and will test weaknesses. "We can't turn the ball over like we did tonight [12]," stressed Smith, "and we have to be more efficient at both ends of the court. It will be a real test for us, to see how much we've improved." The Tigers and Cardinals last played in the 2013-14 season, the lone year they spent together as members of the American Athletic Conference. Memphis won both games that season, but Louisville owns the historic edge with a 53-36 advantage over the teams' 89 games.

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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Tigers 90, Bryant 72

Posted By on Sat, Dec 9, 2017 at 3:13 PM

A Memphis Tiger team desperate for a consistent shooter inserted Jamal Johnson into the starting lineup Saturday afternoon and the freshman from Birmingham made the case for regular membership in that quintet. Johnson hit six of 11 attempts from three-point range, including a buzzer-beater as he fell out of bounds at the end of the first half to help the Tigers improve to 6-2 and stay undefeated (6-0) at FedExForum. The game was the first of four Memphis will play in the cross-regional Gotham Classic. (The only game to actually be played in New York City will be next Saturday's tilt with Louisville.)
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Johnson played a game-high 33 minutes and was supported by junior point guard Jeremiah Martin, who also hit six three-pointers (in seven attempts) and led the Tigers with 24 points (two shy of his career high) and seven assists (with only one turnover). Martin wasn't so much impressed with Johnson's point total (18) as he was with out easy he made the transition from bench to starter. "We didn't know [Johnson] was going to be in the lineup," said Martin after the game. "He was excited. I was messing with him during pregame, to see if he was nervous. I was glad to see him look so comfortable."

The Tigers, for a change, started the game with a strong push, taking a 15-6 lead before the Bulldogs closed the margin and tied the score at 20 midway through the first half. The lead exchanged hands a few times before the Tigers began a 22-0 run with less than five minutes to play before halftime. Johnson keyed the run with three treys, including the buzzer-beater and the Tigers' first two field goals after the break. The lead grew to 21 points in the first two minutes of the second half and Bryant never again closed within 10.

"We shot the ball well today," noted Tiger coach Tubby Smith. "That's something we haven't been doing. We changed the lineup, and Jamal was a big boost for us. We had a lot more assists [26] than turnovers [16] and that was huge. We found Mike Parks in transition some, and we need our big guys to play better inside for us."

Junior forward Kyvon Davenport scored 15 points, giving the juco transfer eight straight games in double figures (matched only by Martin among his teammates). Senior forward Jimario Rivers added 11 points and a team-high six rebounds.

The loss drops Bryant to 1-9 for the season.

With five more games before the start of conference play, Smith suggested a significant step may have been taken toward stabilizing the Tigers' rotation of players. "[Jamal] is a guy who can make shots when he's open," said Smith. "But he got into the lineup not just because of his shooting. His defense is solid; he doesn't take a lot of chances. Fundamentally sound. He's getting stronger. Going forward, I think this is something that will inspire him."

The Tigers will next host Albany on Tuesday night (tip-off at 8 p.m.). The Great Danes beat  Bryant, 84-68, on December 6th.

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Tigers 65, Samford 64

Posted By on Tue, Dec 5, 2017 at 10:51 PM

Escapability.

Whatever qualities this new band of Tigers is learning about itself, an ability to leave FedExForum with a win despite 40 minutes (or more) of shaky play seems to be prominent. Three days after sneaking by Mercer by two points via two overtime periods, Memphis erased a four-point deficit in the game's final 16 seconds to beat the Samford Bulldogs. Freshman guard Jamal Johnson — limited to 17 minutes of playing time by foul trouble — grabbed a rebound off a Jimario Rivers miss, connected on a leaner in the lane to tie the game at 64, and drew a foul (against the Bulldogs' Eric Adams). With 2.5 seconds left on the clock, Johnson hit the free throw to improve the Tigers' record to 5-2.

"He was in the right place at the right time," said junior guard Jeremiah Martin in as appropriate usage of a worn cliche as we'll hear all season. "He stepped up and made a great play."
Jeremiah Martin - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jeremiah Martin

Martin himself hit a driving layup through stationary Bulldog traffic with 10.8 seconds left to pull the Tigers within two points (64-62). Junior forward Raynere Thornton forced a turnover on the ensuing inbounds play that set up Johnson's heroics.

The comeback erased what would have been a star showing from Samford guard Demetrius Denzel-Dyson, a native of nearby Covington. Denzel-Dyson scored five straight points (two field goals and a free throws) on three consecutive possessions — aided by two Memphis turnovers — to give the Bulldogs that 64-60 lead. The senior finished the game with 17 points, tied with Tiger junior Kyvon Davenport for most in the contest.

Memphis improved to 5-0 at home this season despite the Bulldogs leading for thirty minutes and trailing at halftime (this time by nine points) for the sixth time in seven games. The Tigers won despite Rivers going scoreless in the first half (he scored nine points after halftime). They won despite committing more turnovers 16 than they handed out assists (14). Martin struggled from the floor (4 for 15) but hit five of six free throws, every one critical to the final margin.

"It's early," said Martin after the game. "There's a lot of figuring out going on. We need to come out for the next game and play as hard as we did in the last five minutes tonight."

Tiger coach Tubby Smith was pleased with the victory, but doesn't like the developing trend of falling behind, hoping for that escapability. "We had a lot of energy at shootaround," he emphasized. "Very upbeat. You can see by the turnovers, we're not flowing. We've been trying a lot of different things, a lot of different lineups. Tonight was tough because we got into foul trouble, particularly Kareem [Brewton] and Jamal. But Malik [Rhodes] came in and did some good things for us."

Smith's 581st career win came at the expense of Samford coach Scott Padgett, who played for Smith with the 1997-87 national champion Kentucky Wildcats. The Bulldogs fall to 2-7 with the loss and haven't won away from home yet this season (0-6).

"They're still getting to know each other," acknowledged Smith. "But I love the way they compete. And they're pretty resilient."

NOTE: In researching this date in Tiger history, Tiger radio analyst Matt Dillon discovered a jewel of a stat line. On December 5th, 1978, James Bradley put up the first (now-known) triple double in Memphis history: 14 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists against Western Kentucky. Until Dillon unearthed that box score, Penny Hardaway (twice) and Antonio Anderson were thought to be the only Tigers to register triple doubles.


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