Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Three (Quick) Thoughts on the Lawsons' Exodus

Posted By on Wed, Apr 5, 2017 at 3:53 PM

Tubby Smith has to make the University of Memphis basketball program his, and that wasn't going to happen with Keelon Lawson sitting on his bench. The Lawson family wasn't a problem of choice for Smith — Josh Pastner brought all three aboard — but it became Smith's problem the day he took the Tiger job. The most important person for Smith to keep happy last winter was his director of player development. Not athletic director Tom Bowen, not Tiger boosters (there are still lots of them), not Tiger fans in the least. Smith had to keep Keelon Lawson happy if he had any chance of retaining the services of Keelon's two sons, one of them supremely talented. That's no position for a decision-maker to find himself.

When the Tigers' season spiraled downward over the team's last nine games, no one was happy. And in this town, when the Tiger basketball program goes sour, fingers get pointed and names get called. Smith is the easiest (and first) target, of course, and he's paid handsomely for his ability to absorb criticism like he has since mid-February. But the Lawsons weren't happy either. To K.J.'s credit, he acknowledged what a poor loser he is during a late-season press conference, saying a loss always feels "like someone died." The atmosphere at FedExForum (and certainly the Finch Center) became hot with tension. The quickest way out (for one party) is to move on. That was Keelon Lawson's choice, and one he made for his sons.

Business with family is dangerous. Basketball with family is much the same. And when basketball is business, forget about it. (I keep coming back to images of Cosa Nostra in this affair. One Michael Corleone line after another. "It's not personal, Coach Smith ... ") Keelon Lawson's sons are a business venture for him. He recognizes demand for their talents, and projects a certain value for their services. Part of his deal with Pastner was a well-paying job in exchange for Dedric and K.J. (and the inside track on Jonathan and Chandler). I haven't asked Tubby Smith the question straight up, but I'm guessing the head coach's big-picture view of the Tiger program doesn't necessarily include what's best for Keelon Lawson, short-term or long-term. Perhaps Keelon came to see this truth. Perhaps Smith told him, either directly or by the way he managed the program. Trouble is, the "business" of Tiger basketball clashed with the "business" of Lawson family basketball. No fishing trip for Fredo, but this made for an ugly split nonetheless.

• There's no drama like Memphis basketball drama. At his season-ending press conference last week, Smith let slip the word "rivalries." He wasn't clear if he meant internal (within the locker room) rivalries, or external (throughout the Memphis community). What does it matter? This town can be its own worst enemy when it comes to cultivating (read: selling) its talent pool of basketball players. Say the wrong thing to a certain high school (or AAU) coach, and the Tiger coach has new enemies for the duration of his time at the helm. Favors are sought. Preferences are expressed. And yes, rivalries surface between coaches and players from different high schools. (Andre Turner once told me how astonished he was at how quickly former rivals became brothers wearing the Tiger uniform together. That's a credit to Turner's teams — and the Little General's leadership skills — but hardly a given for every generation of local players.) Smith would be wise to assess his recruiting priorities within the city of Memphis. John Calipari — unfair standard or not – showed Tiger basketball could be sold to fans and boosters even with a roster of "outsiders." If it reduces rivalry and drama within his program, Smith should schedule more long-distance recruiting trips.

Dedric and K.J. Lawson Leaving Tiger Basketball Program

Posted By on Wed, Apr 5, 2017 at 11:49 AM

K.J. (left) and Dedric Lawson - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • K.J. (left) and Dedric Lawson
Former Memphis Tiger beat writer Jason Smith — now a midday radio host at ESPN Radio 92.9 — read the following letter over the air Wednesday morning, indicating both Dedric Lawson (currently a sophomore) and and his brother K.J. (a redshirt freshman) will depart the U of M basketball program.

"Dedric and I, along with our family would like to first thank The University of Memphis, the Men's Basketball program, Coach Tubby Smith and Staff and above all Tiger Nation, for giving us the opportunity to play for the Our Home Team. We are born and raised in Memphis, love the city with all of our hearts; however, we must do what is best for our future, our dreams, and our family, so we plan to transfer from the university.

While we have enjoyed our tenure here, the time has come for us to explore some new opportunities. It is for that reason that we are asking for a release from The University of Memphis Men's Basketball program. We both understand and are aware of the rules and regulations regarding this decision, and we are prepared to fully comply with them. We would like to wish the school's basketball program nothing but the best, in all of its future endeavors.

Thank you to our family, the University of Memp
his, our coaches past and present, teammates and Tigers fans for all your support."

— Dedric and K.J. Lawson

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Tubby Smith: "Learning Experience"

Posted By on Tue, Mar 28, 2017 at 3:12 PM

University of Memphis basketball coach Tubby Smith met with local media Tuesday afternoon to tie a bow on the 2016-17 season. Some highlights.

"We're excited about the future. Please that we won 19 games this year. We had our ups and downs, and certainly didn't finish the season the way we wanted to. Through it all, I thought our players gave it all they had. We had great support from fans. It's always a process; it takes time to instill certain things we need to have done in the program, to sustain the type of success we expect and this program deserves.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tubby Smith

"A team that we beat [South Carolina] is playing in the Final Four. We'd like to be that team next year. We're positioned, with so many players returning . . . we need to add players to that [group] in the late signing period. We have to continue to improve and sell our program to our fan base.

"There are a lot things we have question marks about. We expect everybody to be back unless we hear something different; so far we haven't. I know many people are interested in what Dedric Lawson is going to do. We've talked briefly, and nothing has been decided. Whatever he and his parents decide, I'm going to support them. He's been a major part of this program. He had an excellent season; I'm really proud of what he's accomplished.

"We need to shore up our bench play. We didn't have the kind of players coming off the bench who would give us the energy we need. We have three scholarships available in this late signing period, and maybe more.

"In interviewing our players at the end, they really felt they hit a wall. And that's my fault. Guys played a lot of minutes. Starters averaged over 35 minutes a game. I knew that would be an issue, a concern. I think the people we've already signed will be a big help.

"This season has been a learning experience. It's always difficult for players to adjust to a new staff. Look at a guy like Jimario Rivers, with three coaches in three years. There was going to be a learning curve, and not just for the players."

Are you surprised that Craig Randall chose to transfer?
"I'm never surprised at anything young men decide to do. It was concerns about playing time. You have to earn every minute you get. I wish him the best. He averaged the sixth-most minutes on the team. We'll miss him; he had some big games for us."

In recruiting, are you looking to fill positions or best player available?
"We're involved with a lot of junior college players at this point. We need some experience, guys who are physically ready. We're looking for guys who fit our system, our style of play. We need to fill a guard spot with Craig leaving. We need some size, interior play. A lot depends on what Dedric decides."

Is there a time you need to know Dedric's decision so it won't put you in a recruiting bind?
"He's got until April 23rd, I think, for early entry. It's not the best scenario for coaches. But we want to give our student-athletes a chance to test the waters, find out where they are."

Do you advise players, one way or the other?
"When they ask me. I'd love to have [Dedric] back."

Has Dedric asked for your thoughts?
"To some degree. It's still early. He can call the NBA office. You put in that entry form and they'll give you feedback. The NBA has a committee for players and possibilities with NBA teams."

In watching the teams at the South Regional last weekend, there appears to be a gap with the Memphis program. How far away is the Tiger program?
"Look at South Carolina. If you get a group that buys into what you're doing. It's a process, and you've got to have patience. How far are we away? You've got to have players. That's why we're looking at junior college players. You're probably not going to find a high school player who can [impact immediately]."

What kind of NBA player do you think Dedric Lawson will be?
"I think he's a long-term NBA player. There are things he need to get better at: footwork, outside shooting."

You mentioned some distractions at the end of the season. What can be done to eliminate them?
"We have a multifaceted media. And with so many local players on your team . . . . I need to do a better job of engaging all the entities involved in our student-athletes' lives. Relatives, coaches, everybody. There are a lot of people pulling and talking. You have to embrace it, and get all those people on board. I didn't do a good job with that. It takes about two or three years; to really get to know the community. We're reaching out, doing what we can within the rules. This is a hotbed of talent. We expect to be playing this time of year in the future."

What more can you do personally to promote this team?
"It always helps to go to postseason play. We have to let people know how energized we are. That's why I was away last week, flying around the country. In order to be competitive. And we need to upgrade our schedule, find ways to excite the fans. We play Louisville and Alabama next season, but on neutral sites. We need to get some home-and-home series on the schedule. I was at [the South Regional] last Friday. We want that kind of excitement for every game."

Friday, March 10, 2017

AAC Tournament: UCF 84, Tigers 54

Posted By on Fri, Mar 10, 2017 at 3:37 PM

The Tigers' 2016-17 season finally hit rock bottom at the American Athletic Conference tournament in Hartford Friday afternoon. After taking an early 10-7 lead, the Tigers yielded a 23-2 run to the UCF Knights and fell behind by 17 (43-26) at halftime. Matters didn't improve in the second half, and UCF secured a spot in Saturday's semifinals (against SMU).

The loss is the worst in league-tournament play in Memphis history, this being the 48th such event in which the U of M has played. Combined with the 41-point blowout at SMU last Saturday, the loss — the Tigers' seventh in their final nine games — will leave as sour a taste as any season-ender in memory. It also means the Tigers (19-13) have gone three straight seasons without reaching the 20-win plateau for the first time since a four-year drought from 1996-97 to 1999-2000.

Senior guard Matt Williams led the Knights with 19 points as UCF shot 54 percent from the field. The Tigers made only 19 of 60 shots (32 percent) and were a putrid four for 17 from three-point range. All-league forward Dedric Lawson led Memphis with 12 points in what could well be his final college game. Jeremiah Martin added 11 points and K.J. Lawson (the AAC's Rookie of the Year) scored 10.

Monday, March 6, 2017

2016-17 Memphis Tigers: Right and Wrong

Posted By on Mon, Mar 6, 2017 at 11:19 AM

The Tigers' 2016-17 season will probably end this week in Hartford, at the American Athletic Conference tournament. (Memphis faces UCF Friday afternoon in a quarterfinal matchup.) Barring a run to the final, an NIT bid is unlikely for a team that lost six of its last eight regular-season games and suffered what amounted to a lesson in the sport from SMU in last Saturday's 41-point evisceration.

The first year of the Tubby Smith era hasn't been all gloom, though. Hardly. As with most seasons, some things went right, others wrong. Here's a slightly premature season recap.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dedric Lawson

• RIGHT: Dedric Lawson

He doesn't star in the ACC or Big Ten, but let it be said: Dedric Lawson has had one of the best individual seasons in the country, and one of the most memorable in the rich history of Memphis Tiger basketball. The 19-year-old sophomore led the AAC in rebounding (9.9 per game) and finished second in scoring (19.4 points per game). He finished fourth in the league in blocked shots (2.1) and even ranked 13th in assists (3.3). He has created a category of one at the U of M as a 500-300-100 player: 500 points, 300 rebounds, and 100 assists in the same season. The sport will be cheated if Dedric Lawson never plays in an NCAA tournament game, a scenario that today looks probable.

• WRONG: Distance shooting
This proved to be the most predictable shortcoming for a team that had a few. The Tigers' short bench? It wouldn't have been as short had Christian Kessee (23 percent) or Craig Randall (29 percent) seized the role of three-point marksman. The team's starting guards weren't much better, Jeremiah Martin shooting 28 percent from three-point land and Markel Crawford 34 percent. Overall, the Tigers finished last in the AAC with a long-distance mark of 30 percent. Which makes Dedric Lawson's season all the more remarkable. Teams could sag (and double-team Lawson) freely, knowing there was virtually no threat from the Tiger perimeter. And three-point shooting was the lone area Dedric Lawson didn't master (27 percent).
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tubby Smith

•RIGHT: Tubby's touch

The Tigers new coach was "new" only as measured by his tenure in Memphis. He brought a professorial aura to the Memphis program the day he was introduced (April 14, 2016) at FedExForum. And he didn't promise more than he could deliver. "We have our priorities and our goals," he told me last November. "They're pretty high, but they're realistic." On his way to the Tiger bench before every home game, Smith would shake hands with the game-day stat crew. Every home game. It's the kind of thing a coach does at the start of the season (maybe) as a formality. For 18 games? This was genuine Tubby, who brings more to the Memphis program than a win total will ever reflect.

• WRONG: Senior rookies
Chad Rykhoek and Christian Kessee were brought in to make a difference in the one year they could suit up as Tigers. The injury-plagued Rykhoek went down with an ugly ankle injury in the Tigers' 11th game. Kessee simply never found the marksmanship he displayed in the 2015-16 season at Coppin State, when he buried 88 three-pointers and made 39 percent of his shots from long range. These two were swing variables for the Tiger roster, and they swung the wrong way.

• RIGHT: Jeremiah Martin = Point Guard
Whether it was Smith's influence or an exceptional developmental leap over the course of one summer, Martin became a new player last fall, at least compared with the one we saw average 2.7 points and barely an assist per game in limited play as a freshman. Martin has averaged 4.5 assists this season and ranks fifth in the AAC in  assist/turnover ratio at 2.3. It's scary to imagine Martin making the same proportional improvement next season as a junior. Safe to say, the Memphis point guard position is secured for two more years.

•WRONG: More empty seats
In 18 home games, the Tigers managed to sell 10,000 tickets just seven times. The season high was 12,381 for the Houston game on February 26th. If all 12,381 fans showed up to see that loss to the Cougars, there were still more than 5,000 empty seats yawning at the action on the floor. The elbow room at FedExForum can no longer be blamed on a fan base protesting Josh Pastner's presence. But the statement those empty seats are making remains the most troubling component for the big picture of Tiger basketball. This season's team suited up a certifiable star in Dedric Lawson and was coached by a man destined for the Hall of Fame. Not enough. Perhaps some families have steered their season-ticket budget toward football. The continued success of the Grizzlies — in the same building, during the same winter months — has surely impacted the economics of U of M hoops. Whatever the factors, athletic director Tom Bowen and Smith need to consider how to improve the atmosphere of college basketball at Memphis. (A wild thought: The next time Savannah State comes to town, play the game at the Elma Roane Fieldhouse. A packed crowd of 2,500 can bring more than an empty-looking 9,000 in an NBA arena.)
Markel Crawford - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Markel Crawford

• RIGHT: Markel Crawford and K.J. Lawson

Remember Crawford's 28 points in the win over South Carolina? How about the 30 he put up against USF in mid-January? On these nights, the Tigers were a two-star team, and looked like AAC title contenders. As for the older (though freshman) Lawson brother, K.J. had a game at Houston in January that would make his brother proud: 28 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists. In the Tigers' win over East Carolina, he had 12 points and 19 rebounds (more than Dedric has ever pulled down in a single game). If K.J. was "the other" Lawson, he was quite a bonus for this team, finishing third in the AAC in rebounding (8.3).

• WRONG: Markel Crawford and K.J. Lawson
Where did they go? Crawford didn't score (in 26 minutes of action) in the loss at UCF that started the Tigers' season-ending tailspin. The junior went scoreless again at Cincinnati (in 25 minutes) in a game he was desperately needed for Memphis to upset the Bearcats. And K.J.? The word "unbridled" was invented for his approach at times. That game when he pulled down 19 rebounds? Seven of them were offensive, a few certainly resulting from his own misfires as K.J. missed 18 of the 23 shots he took against the Pirates. He was a combined three-for-fifteen from the field in consecutive losses to Temple and UConn. (But then scored 20 to keep the Tigers in the game against Houston on February 26th.)

• RIGHT: 19 wins (so far)
Let's end on a high note, with a dose of perspective. Tulane has played 30 games this season and won six. South Florida finished 1-17 in AAC play. The reviled (in some corners) Pastner earned ACC Coach of the Year honors for guiding Georgia Tech to 17 wins and an 11th-place(!) finish in that esteemed league. Expectations, you see, are everything. And whether expectations in these parts are too high ("Only 19 wins!") or too low (those empty seats at FEF), they tend to run to an extreme. Which beats the hell out of I don't care.

Enjoy this weekend's tourney and the March Madness to come. Many thanks for reading all season long.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

#14 SMU 103, Tigers 62

Posted By on Sat, Mar 4, 2017 at 5:59 PM

After his team's Saturday afternoon in Dallas, Memphis coach Tubby Smith has 40 minutes of game film to study the gap his program must close to once again contend for an American Athletic Conference championship, to say nothing of higher levels of measurable success. The SMU Mustangs may as well have been instructors to the Tiger trainees, the game decided by halftime with the home team leading by 24 (48-24).

The Tigers' regular season concludes with an overall record of 19-12 and a 9-9 mark in the AAC. The U of M has lost six of its last eight games and will limp into the AAC tournament quarterfinals for their next game Thursday night in Hartford.

The game featured a matchup of the two leading contenders for AAC Player of the Year. SMU junior Semi Ojeleye scored 19 points and grabbed six rebounds while Tiger sophomore Dedric Lawson had 13 points and five rebounds. Mustang guard Sterling Brown led all scorers with 26 points as SMU became the first team to score 100 against Memphis this season.

The Mustangs shot 61 percent from the field and held the Tigers to 34 percent as they clinched the AAC's regular-season championship. They'll enter the AAC tourney as the top seed with an overall record of 27-4 and a league mark of 17-1.

Jeremiah Martin scored 12 points for Memphis and Keon Clergeot added 14 off the bench.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Tigers 92, Tulane 70

Posted By on Thu, Mar 2, 2017 at 11:40 PM

Dedric Lawson played like Thursday night was a goodbye game at FedExForum. The Tigers' home finale was, in fact, a send-off for three Memphis seniors: Jake McDowell, Chad Rykhoek, and Christian Kessee. Speculation continues, though, over the college — or professional — future for the Tigers' star sophomore, who became the first Memphis player to accumulate 500 points, 300 rebounds, and 100 assists in a single season. The younger of the team's two Lawson brothers went to the floor after taking a Tulane player's shoulder to his jaw early in the second half. He missed less than a minute of action and finished the contest with 29 points (his most in seven games), eight rebounds, and four assists.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dedric Lawson

"[Dedric] does more for us, I'm sure, than anyone does for any other team in our league," said Tiger coach Tubby Smith after his team ended a four-game losing streak and improved to 19-11 for the season. "I'm proud of [the team] competing, especially on Senior Night. It was good to see us score some points, and get the ball up the court in transition. It started with our defensive intensity."

That defensive intensity wasn't evident during a somnolent first half in which the American Athletic Conference's cellar dwellers outscored the Tigers, 39-34. Dedric Lawson hit six of his eight shots in the period, but his teammates were a dreadful six for 24.

Smith let the players know how dreadful they looked at halftime. "I've been concerned for a while about our lack of discipline, our lack of execution," he said. "Sometimes you have to get emotional to get your point across."
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jake McDowell

The Tigers took the lead on a three-point play by Jeremiah Martin three minutes into the second half. They stretched a five-point lead to 18 over a five-minute stretch midway through the half, which allowed the team's reserves — including the ever-popular McDowell, the team's only four-year player — to take the floor and finish the home campaign with a victory. The crowd's audible affection for McDowell impressed Dedric Lawson. "That's about relationships you build," said the 19-year-old forward. "Everyone would want to feel that." McDowell played 16 minutes and scored four points, a season-high for the Christian Brothers alum.

K.J. Lawson scored 13 points and Martin added 12 as the Tigers improved to 9-8 in AAC action, with one game (Saturday at 14th-ranked SMU) left on the regular-season schedule. Tulane fell to 5-24 (2-15 in the AAC). Melvin Frazier led the Green Wave with 16 points.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Houston 72, Tigers 71

Posted By on Sun, Feb 26, 2017 at 7:44 PM

The Tigers' tailspin continued Sunday afternoon at FedExForum. When Jeremiah Martin's desperation shot was partially blocked as time expired, Memphis left the court with a fourth consecutive defeat, a .500 (8-8) record in the American Athletic Conference, and the likelihood of having to win four games in four days at the AAC tournament in Hartford for a cherished NCAA tournament bid.

Freshman forward K.J. Lawson summarized the latest defeat for each of his teammates, and much of the remaining Tiger fan base: "Every loss is the same. I don't like losing. I treat it like someone died. I'm a sore loser."

"Losing four in a row is something I haven't done, ever," said K.J.'s brother, Dedric Lawson. "It's not the end of the world. We've just got to turn it around, get a winning streak going. Stay grounded. Don't get too low."
Jeremiah Martin - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jeremiah Martin

A likely first-team all-conference pick, Dedric earned his 19th double-double of the season with 12 points and 13 rebounds, but missed seven of ten shots from the field and an important free throw that would have tied the game at 69 with 1:51 to play. The sophomore forward was to receive the ball on the game's final play, but K.J. chose to target Martin with his brother in traffic near the basket.

The Cougars led for the first 36 minutes of the game, by as many as 13 in the first half, and by five (40-35) at halftime. But Memphis closed the deficit, and with reserves Jake McDowell, Craig Randall, and Christian Kessee on the floor for a key first-half stretch after Dedric Lawson went to the bench with two fouls. Markel Crawford hit three-pointers — one from the left side, the second from the right — on consecutive Tiger possessions to tie the game at 66 with just over four minutes to play. A Jimario Rivers free throw gave the U of M its only lead, 67-66, with 3:22 to play.

But Cougar guard Rob Gray (17 points) converted a three-point play and Damyean Dotson (31 points) hit a jumper to give Houston a 71-68 edge. Dedric Lawson converted a three-point play of his own to tie the score, but Rivers was called for hand-checking Dotson with three seconds to play. Dotson made the second of his two free throws for the decisive point.

Tiger coach Tubby Smith said he was too far away to judge the accuracy of the foul call on Rivers, but acknowledged his players are taught to back away when a player brings the ball to waist level, to avoid precisely the foul Rivers was given.

"We had no answer for Dotson," said Smith. "We did some good things, but we just didn't finish the right way." When asked about his team's losing skid, and how it might be reversed, the coach seemed to be in search mode.

"When the pressure's on," he asked, "how are you going to respond? We've come close. But we haven't had that intensity level we've needed. For the most part, our guys give us all they have. Their attitudes have been good. I've probably been a little more chippy."

K.J. Lawson led the Tigers with 20 points and pulled down nine rebounds. Martin had 16 points and five assists. The Tigers shot better from the field (48 percent) than did Houston (42 percent), but the Cougars made nine treys to the Tigers' five.

Houston has now won seven of eight games and improves to 20-8 (11-5 in the AAC). The Tigers have lost five of six and are now 18-11 overall.

The Tigers host Tulane Thursday night before finishing the regular season with a trip to SMU on Saturday.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

#15 Cincinnati 87, Tigers 74

Posted By on Thu, Feb 23, 2017 at 8:06 PM

Say what you will about Josh Pastner's seven years as coach of the Memphis Tigers, but his teams avoided losing streaks. In falling to the 15th-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats Thursday night in Ohio, the Tigers lost their third straight game, the first such streak since March of 2005 (John Calipari's fifth season at the helm). Not that long ago 17-6, Memphis fell to 18-10 and are now just a game over .500 (8-7) in American Athletic Conference play.

In winning their 25th consecutive home game, the Bearcats improved to 25-3 and remain in contention (with SMU) for the AAC title with a 14-1 mark.

Cincinnati dominated early, hitting 16 of its first 24 shots to take a 19-point lead (51-32) at halftime. The Bearcats led by 17 with just under 12 minutes to play before the Tigers found a groove of sorts. Spurred by sophomores Dedric Lawson (21 points, 10 rebounds) and Jeremiah Martin (23 points, 11 assists), the Tigers enjoyed a 20-9 stretch and closed Cincinnati's lead to six points (75-69) on a three-point play by Martin with 5:17 left on the clock. But the Bearcats scored the game's next eight points to pull away for good.

The Tigers outshot Cincinnati from the field (54 percent to 49 percent), but the bigger, more aggressive Bearcats got to the foul line 28 times and made 23 free throws, while Memphis was only 8 for 12 from the charity stripe.

Kyle Washington led Cincinnati with 16 points and Jacob Evans added 15.

K.J. Lawson scored 15 for the Tigers while Jimario Rivers added 12. Senior center Chad Rykhoek returned to action for Memphis after missing 16 games with a dislocated ankle. Junior Markel Crawford, the team's second-leading scorer, did not score in the game and was limited by three fouls.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Memphis Tiger Super Sophs

Posted By on Mon, Feb 20, 2017 at 8:00 AM

Dedric Lawson is only the 10th Memphis men's basketball player to score 1,000 points in his first two seasons as a Tiger. Making the achievement even more impressive, Lawson is only the sixth Tiger to join the 1,000-point club during his sophomore season (and still shy of his 20th birthday).
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dedric Lawson

Win Wilfong played two seasons at Missouri before transferring to Memphis and scoring 1,203 points in two seasons. The great Larry Finch wasn't eligible to play as a freshman (1969-70), and Penny Hardaway was academically ineligible for his freshman campaign (1990-91). Omar Sneed played two seasons in junior college before scoring his 1,000th point for Memphis in 1999.

So where does Lawson rank among the five other 1,000-point sophomores at the U of M?

6) Darius Washington (2004-06) — Washington will forever be remembered in these parts for missing a pair of free throws after time expired in the 2005 Conference USA championship game at FedExForum, shots that would have sent the Tigers to the NCAA tournament. (Having lost 14 previous games, that team didn't deserve a bid.) D-Wash manned the point for a great 2005-06 team, one that won 33 games and made the first of four consecutive appearances for the program in the NCAA Sweet 16 (losing to UCLA in a regional final). Washington was a shoot-first playmaker who would be considerably higher on the Tiger career scoring chart had he stayed for a third (let alone fourth) season.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Will Barton

5) Will Barton (2010-12) — Barton was named C-USA's Player of the Year after the 2011-12 season, one in which he led the league in scoring (18.0 points per game). Few players as slender as Barton have been as productive in the paint. He was the rare college player who could score off-balance . . . consistently. A member of two NCAA tournament teams, Barton was part of 51 wins in his two seasons as a Tiger. Now a member of the Denver Nuggets, he'll soon become just the ninth former Tiger to play in 300 NBA games.

4) Dedric Lawson (2015-17) — Lawson's success as a college player is staggering when you consider he could well be a freshman this season, having graduated a year early from Hamilton High School so he could jump-start his Tiger career. His 34 career double-doubles already rank sixth in Memphis history. Through 60 games, Lawson has averaged 17.5 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. A leading contender for American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, Lawson is the only player on this list not to appear (yet) in the NCAA tournament.

3) Lorenzen Wright (1994-96) — Wright's life ended tragically in 2010, after the center played in more NBA games (778) than any other former Tiger. But I remember most vividly the freshman rim-shaker, screaming up to the Pyramid cheap seats after another two-handed slam. The Tiger program had suffered a downer in 1993-94 following Penny Hardaway's departure for the NBA.Wright was a college force from the first time he took the floor for coach Larry Finch. He led Memphis in both scoring and rebounding each of his two seasons, accumulating 31 double-doubles in 64 games while averaging 16.0 points and 10.3 rebounds. As a freshman, he helped Memphis to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16.

2) Elliot Perry (1987-89) — One of two Tigers to score 2,000 career points, Perry led the Tigers in assists each of his four seasons and scoring three times. (Dwight Boyd was the top scorer during Perry's freshman season of 1987-88.) With his goggles and knee-high socks, Perry would have been a crowd favorite for his presentation alone. But he proved to be an exceptional pace-setting point guard. Twice named first-team All-Metro Conference, Perry is second in career steals and fifth in career assists at Memphis.

1) Keith Lee (1981-83) — Lawson's double-double total is impressive until you consider Lee had 37 by the end of his sophomore season, then had 37 more as a junior and senior. The four-time All-America scored 1,113 points as an under-classman, then 1,295 as an upper-classman, helping the Tigers reach the Sweet 16 four years in a row, including the 1985 Final Four. Over the last 32 years, no Memphis player has come within 100 points of Lee's school scoring record (2,408 points) or within 100 rebounds of his rebounding mark (1,336). Over his first two seasons, Lee averaged 18.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per game.

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

UConn 65, Tigers 62

Posted By on Thu, Feb 16, 2017 at 10:24 PM

This one will linger.

The Tigers played in Hartford, Connecticut, Thursday night — site of the American Athletic Conference tournament in three weeks — and managed to build a 15-point lead on the UConn Huskies, winners of five of their last six games entering the contest. But they suffered a dreadful collapse over the game's final eight minutes, in particular a 12-2 Husky run to end the game. In losing consecutive games for the first time this season, Memphis falls to 18-9 and 8-6 in AAC play while UConn improves to 13-12 (8-5).

The Tigers led for 34 of the game's 40 minutes, by 14 at halftime, and by seven (60-53) with less than five minutes to play. But Husky guard Jordan Adams drained a floater from the right elbow with 1:50 left on the clock to seize the lead (61-60) for UConn. The U of M regained possession after a turnover, but Dedric Lawson misfired at the end of the shot clock. Husky reserve Christian Vital escaped on the inbounds play, receiving a pass and dunking the ball for the decisive points. The Tigers missed a pair of three-point attempts on their final possession, with Jimario Rivers flushing an offensive rebound for the Tigers' final points.

The win gives UConn a split of the teams' two games this season, Memphis having won at FedExForum on January 5th.

Craig Randall starred off the bench for Memphis, scoring 11 first-half points and 13 for the game, his most since November 26th. Markel Crawford added 13, Dedric Lawson 12, and Jeremiah Martin 11 for Memphis.

Adams led UConn with 19 points.

Now for the lingering part. The Tigers don't play again until they visit 18th-ranked Cincinnati next Thursday (February 23). They don't return home to FedExForum until Houston visits on February 26th.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Temple 74, Tigers 62

Posted By on Sun, Feb 12, 2017 at 4:30 PM

Basketball teams don't go 11 minutes without scoring and win. In a game of runs Sunday afternoon at FedExForum, the Tigers conceded a 28-2 stretch to the visiting Temple Owls and endured an offensive blackout from the 8:42 mark of the first half to the 17:47 mark of the second without a field goal. They managed to close a 19-point second-half deficit to three points — thanks to a 20-4 run of their own — but were unable to catch the Owls. Two late three-pointers by Temple guard Quinton Rose sealed the win for the Owls, now 14-12 (5-8 in the American Athletic Conference).

In dropping their fifth game to Temple in the teams' last six meetings, the Tigers fall to 18-8 (8-5). Their home winning streak ends at six games and they now enter the toughest five-game stretch of the season with virtually no hope of an NCAA tournament berth.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tubby Smith

"We shot the ball very poorly," conceded Memphis coach Tubby Smith, "and we didn't defend the three the way we should. [Temple connected on 10 of 23 shots from three-point range.]  But I'm proud of the way the guys battled back."

The U of M got off to an uncharacteristically fast start, taking a 12-4 lead spurred by the play of sophomore forward Dedric Lawson. But Lawson's field goal with 8:42 to play in the first half proved to be the Tigers' last for almost 11 full minutes. Temple tied the game at 25 with 6:30 to play and had command of the game (39-25) by halftime.

"When you're getting beat off the dribble like we did . . . they're a bigger team," said Smith in itemizing what went so wrong so fast. "You can't waste possessions, and you can't get distracted by complaining [about officiating]." The veteran coach emphasized that "bad shots are turnovers," a concession that his team wasted more than a few possessions in a game the Tigers finished shooting 38 percent from the field. Memphis made only five of 20 three-point attempts.

"They didn't do anything different, specifically," said a disconsolate Dedric Lawson. "We just didn't make shots." The younger of the team's two Lawson brothers finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds. Markel Crawford added 17 points. K.J. Lawson and Jeremiah Martin combined to shoot only three of 14 from the field.

Rose led the Owls with 18 points, hitting four of five shots from long range. Daniel Dingle added 13 points and seven assists.

"We need to regroup," said Smith. "And recover mentally." The Tigers play but one game over the next ten days (February 16th at UConn), and don't return to FedExForum until February 26th, when Houston comes to town. A degree of urgency now falls on seeding for the AAC tournament in Hartford next month, as the Tigers may need to make a run there to earn attention from the NIT, let alone the NCAA tournament selection committee.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

2017 Memphis Tigers Football Schedule

Posted By on Thu, Feb 9, 2017 at 10:28 AM

* August 31 (Th.) — LA-MONROE

* Sept. 9 — at UCF

* Sept. 16 — UCLA


* Sept. 30 — at Georgia State

* Oct. 6 (Fr.) — at UConn

* Oct. 14 — NAVY

* Oct. 19 (Th.) — at Houston

* Oct. 27 (Fr.) — TULANE

* Nov. 3 (Fr.) — at Tulsa

* Nov. 18 — SMU


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Tigers 66, Tulsa 44

Posted By on Tue, Feb 7, 2017 at 9:30 PM

What a difference a Markel Crawford makes. Three days after going scoreless in the Tigers' 15-point loss at UCF, the junior guard ended a three-game slump with 19 points (on 8 of 13 shooting) to help Memphis avenge a 10-point loss at Tulsa less than a month ago. Having scored 81 points in that win, the Golden Hurricane had its total virtually cut in half and fell to 12-11 for the season (6-5 in the American Athletic Conference). Memphis improves to 18-7 and 8-4 in the AAC.

"I've just got to be a more consistent player," said Crawford after the game. "It hurts the team when I don't produce, makes it hard on them. I've got to come out with an aggressive mindset, no matter where we are, and stay focused. Once I see that first shot go in, my mindset is that everything will go in."
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dedric Lawson

After falling behind UCF 14-0 last Saturday, the Tigers found themselves down 12-2 less than six minutes into Tuesday night's game. Crawford acknowledged the slow starts have to end. "They put us in a hole," said Crawford, "and it takes more energy just to get back in the game."

That energy was found off the bench, of all places, with Christian Kessee and Keon Clergeot draining three-pointers on consecutive possessions midway through the first half. When K.J. Lawson added a long-distance shot himself, the Tigers had closed from a seven-point deficit (15-8) to a single point down (18-17). A Kessee jump shot (for two) gave the Tigers their first lead (19-18) with 8:32 left in the first half. A 13-2 run to end the half gave the U of M a 32-27 lead at the break.

"Christian, Keon, and Craig [Randall] have been shooting well in practice," said Smith, "so I thought it was a good time, down eight or nine. The energy level just wasn't there. It paid dividends in the second half. We were consistently good defensively tonight. That's why we won the game."

Tulsa made only four of 22 shots from three-point range and shot 32 percent overall. Junior Etou led the Golden Hurricane with merely nine points.

Sophomore forward Dedric Lawson scored 14 points and pulled down 11 rebounds for the 33rd double-double of his career, a figure that ties him with James Bradley for sixth in Tiger history. He also became the 51st Memphis player to score 1,000 points in his career (and just the 10th to do so in his first two seasons). His older brother, K.J. Lawson, added 12 points.

Smith admitted to some "fiery" practices since the UCF loss. "Most people are not self-motivators," he said. "They need some pushing and pulling. You can get in a rut. We were so concerned about energy levels, minutes. I'm not going to worry about it in practice any more. You gotta practice the way you play. That's my fault. Our starters don't get much of a break in practice. It's not like they weren't working hard. It's just the intensity level. More importantly, we're back to some fundamentals in our defensive principles."

The Tigers will have a chance to avenge another loss come Sunday when Temple visits FedExForum. The Owls handled Memphis in Philadelphia on January 25th, winning 77-66. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Tiger Football Steals February

Posted By on Mon, Feb 6, 2017 at 8:00 AM

Somehow, some way, University of Memphis football managed to steal a week in February from University of Memphis basketball. Tubby Smith's squad merely split a pair of games in Florida last week.  At least in terms measured by the likes of and 247 Sports, second-year Tiger football coach Mike Norvell has secured the finest recruiting class in the program's history (or at least as far back as rankings history goes). And this is a very big deal if you like fall Saturdays at the Liberty Bowl. For it can be said that the finest college football programs have two things in common: a big day in January (at a bowl game) and a big day in early February.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Mike Norvell

When Memphis opens its season on September 2nd against UL-Monroe, count on true-freshman Obinna Eze being among the five starting offensive linemen. You could well see two more fresh-out-of-high-school players in the starting lineup: receiver Nick Robinson and cornerback T.J. Carter. Each of these young men enters the program as four-star recruits (out of a magic five), and such sought-after talent does not arrive on campus with room for a redshirt in the locker.

True freshmen play major college football under one of two circumstances: the team's roster is so thin, they're forced onto the field . . . or they are exceptionally talented. We've seen plenty of the former scenario over the years with the U of M program. (Remember when Larry Porter didn't have a full allotment of scholarship players?) But the latter — exceptional talent — is something to anticipate.

It's a good time to remember that quarterback Paxton Lynch was redshirted before growing into a first-round NFL draft pick. Anthony Miller redshirted before becoming the most prolific single-season receiver in Tiger history. Neither was a three-star recruit, to say nothing of four. And Memphis has three of the four-star studs on the way.

A select few college football programs (the haves) are magnets: the top recruits in the country actively seek membership in their annual campaigns for league and national championships. Most college football programs (the have-nots) are fishermen: they cast lines hither and yon, hoping for a nibble from top recruits, settling for smaller fish more often than not.

The Memphis program is hardly a magnet. Not yet. Many more wins and a few league championships must be secured before remotely considering such status in these parts. But Norvell has landed at least three players who would have been welcome on most SEC and Big 10 campuses, three members of a class considered by some to be the best of any program outside the "Power Five" leagues. Add them to a team led by Miller and a quarterback (Riley Ferguson) who threw more touchdown passes as a junior than Lynch did as a senior, and you have as many reasons for optimism as Memphis football could count in a generation or two.

It's early February. An over-achieving basketball team under the guidance of a wise, accomplished coach is worth supporting. Twenty wins and postseason play (if only the NIT) are possibilities. As March Madness approaches, though, consider the strides taken last week by the Tiger football program significant, and in the direction of an important football game — someday soon — in early January.

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