Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Tulsa 81, Tigers 71

Posted By on Wed, Jan 11, 2017 at 9:27 PM

Wednesday night was hardly the Tulsa homecoming Memphis coach Tubby Smith envisioned. The veteran coach led the Golden Hurricane to 79 wins over four seasons (1991-95) and a pair of Sweet 16 appearances in the NCAA tournament. Those lines on Smith's resume were good enough for some cheers during pregame introductions, but little more on a night his Tigers saw a three-game winning streak end.

Tulsa scored seven straight points after Dedric Lawson tied the game at 69 with just under 2:30 to play to clinch its eighth win of the season. The Golden Hurricane is now 8-7 overall and 2-1 in American Athletic Conference play. Memphis falls to 12-5 (2-2).

Junior Etou led the way for Tulsa with 23 points and 13 rebounds. His three-point play with 1:15 left gave Tulsa a 74-69 lead, plenty of cushion as the game unfolded.

Tulsa hit 25 of 30 free throws, while the Tigers missed 10 of 23 shots from the charity stripe. Dedric Lawson led Memphis with 26 points and point guard Jeremiah Martin added 20. Fresh off being named the AAC's player of the week, Tiger guard Markel Crawford was held to eight points. The Golden Hurricane dominated the boards with a 41-29 rebounding edge.

Memphis trailed by 10 (51-41) early in the second half, but roared back and took the lead on a steal, layup, and free throw by Martin with 10:30 to play. But the Tigers were unable to sustain a defensive presence over the game's final ten minutes, perhaps an indication of fatigue for a team with little bench support.

The Tigers return to FedExForum Saturday to host USF in a game scheduled to tip off at 5 p.m.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Memphis Tigers Midseason Report

Posted By on Mon, Jan 9, 2017 at 9:33 AM

With their win Sunday at Tulane, the Tigers passed the midpoint of their 2016-17 campaign. At 12-4, Memphis is one game better than it was after 16 games a year ago. The aim, of course, is to avoid the 4-9 stretch that destroyed Josh Pastner's last season as head coach. You remember that six-week free-fall, don't you? Losses to East Carolina (at home), Tulane, and South Florida, hardly American Athletic Conference title contenders.

Is this year's team equipped to win more than 19 games? To contend for the AAC championship and an NCAA tournament bid?

Here's what we've learned over the season's first two months.

Four horses. "Horsemen" would be too apocalyptic, so we'll stick with the four-legged metaphor. The Tigers — like thoroughbreds in spring – will go as far as Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson, Markel Crawford, and Jeremiah Martin take them. Due respect to the rest of Tubby Smith's roster, and the practice duty of players like Christian Kessee, Keon Clergeot, and Jake McDowell. Supporting casts are important when the cameras are off and the arena's empty. But come game night, this basketball team may as well be the Beatles. Each of the four horses is averaging at least 30 minutes a game. (Last season, only Dedric Lawson averaged that many and six players averaged at least 20.) In eight games this season (half their schedule), at least three of these four players played 35 minutes. In the overtime win at Oklahoma on December 17th, they all played at least 40. In the four-point loss to SMU on December 27th, all four played all 40 minutes.

This is a dramatically different approach from last season, when Pastner would make as many as 15 substitutions before halftime. There's risk, of course. A significant injury to any of the four horses would compromise not just the look of the team, but its very playing style. But if they can stay heathy — two games a week, that's all — the kinship the four feel on the hardwood may go beyond anything the two actual brothers have known as teammates.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tubby Smith

Tubby Smith can "develop" players. I'll explain the quotation marks. The standard definition of "development" at the college level — in measuring a coach's impact — is the improvement of a player under a coach's guidance from one season to the next. Smith was not here last season, so can the astounding improvement of both Crawford and Martin be considered "development" under the first-year coach? If not, Smith should at least be credited with uncovering whatever these two guards had buried within themselves twelve months ago.

After averaging 2.7 points and barely an assist per game as a freshman (in 13.8 minutes per game), Martin is averaging 9.2 points and 4.8 assists. Better yet, he's protected the ball, committing only 29 turnovers while averaging 33.9 minutes on the floor. And Crawford has been the team's second-best player, improving his scoring average from 5.3 points per game as a sophomore to 15.4 this season. He's averaging a healthy (for a guard) 4.9 rebounds per game, while applying the same defensive pressure that kept him on the floor his first two seasons. And call this an intangible, but Crawford seems to be enjoying basketball this season. He's been healthy and productive, vocal and energetic. Reminds me of Antonio Anderson, the popular "glue guy" during the four-year, 30-wins-a-season period under John Calipari. Whether or not Smith deserves credit for developing Martin and Crawford, there's  a coach in Atlanta, Georgia, wondering where these two were a year ago.

Number one. Joe Jackson wore this number proudly not that long ago, but sophomore Dedric Lawson is taking it places few Tigers have gone before. In averaging 20.4 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, Lawson has reeled off 13 double-doubles in 16 games and become only the ninth Tiger with 30 such games in his career. (Five Tigers had 40, the last being Kelly Wise.) If he maintains his scoring average, Lawson will join a Tiger Rushmore with 1,100 points in his first two college seasons (Penny Hardaway, Win Wilfong, Larry Finch, and Keith Lee).
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dedric Lawson

Draft Express does not have Lawson being selected (first or second round) in its latest mock draft. has him going in the second round (49th). He'll have to get stronger to make an impact as a professional that approximates what he's done as a teenager in college. (Lawson turned 19 last October.) But he is a college star of the first order, worthy of larger crowds than he's seen at FedExForum to this point. (Fewer than 11,000 fans attended last week's victory over once-mighty UConn.) The hope must be that Lawson stays healthy and leads this team to postseason play, where more of the country will enjoy his talents, and a few scouts might adjust their mock drafts.

Steady as she goes. I've attended countless postgame press conferences over the last decade. Calipari liked to entertain or play the role of grouch. Pastner became predictable, deferring to his players and coaches in good times, leaning on his positive-energy crutch when times got rocky. I've been struck this season by Smith's quite-casual fielding of questions, and honest responses, sometimes to a fault. ("We probably should have used our bench more in the second half," he said after the UConn game. Imagine Calipari offering genuine self-criticism . . . after a win.) Smith brought a quarter-century of head-coaching experience with him, but has engaged himself with the talents — yes, they're limited — of this specific team.

"We've got some self-motivated kids, who love to play the game," said Smith after a blowout win over McNeese State in November. "Today, it was about sharing the basketball. There wasn't a whole lot of strategy we had to change at halftime. Don't look at the scoreboard. Concentrate on getting better. Sometimes that's hard to do. I've had players try to get outside their comfort zone. When that happens, I recognize it, and the team recognizes it. So play the right way. It's a team sport. Like anything else, you can accomplish a whole lot if you don't care who gets the credit."

This is a down year for the AAC. It's hard to imagine a team reaching the NCAA tournament without winning 13 or 14 league games (out of 18). Eleven wins in their final 15 games would get the Tigers to 13-5 in the AAC and 23-8 entering the conference tournament in Hartford. That's a lot to ask from a team with no measurable depth and little size. But with a wise, grounded coach at the helm and a certifiable star on the floor 35 minutes a game, these Memphis Tigers could surprise come March. Just play the right way.

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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Tigers 80, Tulane 59

Posted By on Sun, Jan 8, 2017 at 4:05 PM

The Tigers eased their way to a third straight win this afternoon in New Orleans, improving to 12-4 while handing Tulane its fifth straight loss. Dedric Lawson scored 24 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for his 13th double-double in 16 games, and the 30th of his two-year college career. (Lawson becomes the ninth Memphis player with 30 such games.) Markel Crawford continued his midseason scoring surge, putting up 24 points and draining five three-pointers. Crawford has averaged 23.7 points over the Tigers' last three games after averaging 13.5 in the first 13 games of the season.

The win improves Memphis to 12-4 for the season and 2-1 in the American Athletic Conference. Tulane falls to 3-12 (0-3).

The Green Wave enjoyed an 11-0 run midway through the first half to take a 25-20 lead, only to surrender a 13-0 Tiger counterpunch sparked by a Crawford trey and steal-and-dunk by point guard Jeremiah Martin. Memphis led 36-26 at halftime and extended its lead to 17 less than eight minutes into the second half.

The Tigers cruised despite committing a season-high 21 turnovers. They shot 52 percent from the field while holding Tulane to 34 percent. Memphis hit nine of 21 shots from long-distance and outrebounded the Green Wave, 43-32.

Freshman forward K.J. Lawson added 13 points and 8 rebounds for the U of M. Melvin Frazier and Kain Harris led Tulane with 15 points.

The Tigers are now 2-1 on the road this season and travel to Tulsa to face the Golden Hurricane on Wednesday.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Tigers 70, Connecticut 61

Posted By on Thu, Jan 5, 2017 at 9:20 PM

Until another American Athletic Conference team wins a national championship, the UConn Huskies are the young league's standard bearers. Having won four national titles since 1999, Connecticut entered Thursday's game at FedExForum beaten up both by injuries and by the opposition (5-8 record). The Huskies managed to take an early five-point lead, but then reverted to form for their fourth consecutive loss. Sophomore forward Dedric Lawson picked up his 12th double-double of the season (15 points and 11 rebounds) and junior guard Markel Crawford contributed 19 points as the Tigers improved to 11-4 for the season and evened their AAC mark at 1-1.
Markel Crawford - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Markel Crawford

"The defensive effort was outstanding," said Memphis coach Tubby Smith. "And it had to be, because [UConn] dominated the boards. I don't think I've had a team that lost by 21 on the boards [49-28] and still won. We took care of the basketball the right way." The Tigers contributed only four turnovers while handing out 18 assists on 29 field goals. They held UConn to 38 percent from the field and forced 15 turnovers.

"We wanted to push the ball [offensively] and extend our defense," added Smith. "We scored 19 fast-break points. Even though they had size, we wanted to attack inside. They backed off and tried to make us beat them with the three . . . and we tried. But that's not our game. We got back to passing the ball, sharing it the right way."

Crawford hit a three-pointer to put Memphis up 10 (30-20) late in the first half, then converted a pair of field-goal attempts to open the second half. A trey by reserve guard Craig Randall gave the Tigers a 14-point cushion (42-28) just over three minutes into the second half and the Huskies never again closed within five points.

While UConn's having a down year by its lofty standards, the Tiger players consider the win a significant step toward their team's ultimate goal. "It's satisfying," said Dedric Lawson. "They've been a powerhouse program in the past. We came through. No matter who their players are, it's still UConn."

Jimario Rivers scored 16 points despite being limited to 24 minutes by foul trouble in his fourth start since Chad Rykhoek's ankle injury. The Tiger bench was again extremely short, with only Randall (21 minutes) and Keon Clergeot (5) seeing action on the floor.

Center Amida Brimah led Connecticut with 15 points and 10 rebounds. No other Husky scored as many as 10 points.

"We want to protect home court," said Crawford. "We don't want to get up 20 and get lackadaisical. We did a good job of keeping the pressure on."

"We're not the biggest team," added Lawson, "but we fight, and we get into the paint." The younger of the two Tiger Lawson brothers now has 29 double-doubles in his two-year career. Two more will tie him with Lorenzen Wright for eighth in Memphis history.

The Tigers' next two games will be on the road, first Sunday at Tulane, then on January 11th at Tulsa.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Tigers 95, Incarnate Word 71

Posted By on Wed, Dec 21, 2016 at 10:24 PM

Lawson double-doubles — pick your brother — have become commonplace at FedExForum this season. Not so much scoring outbursts from freshman guard Keon Clergeot. Wednesday night, 7,919 devoted Tiger fans saw both (or all three, if we're being literal).

Sophomore forward Dedric Lawson led the way (again) with 25 points and 12 rebounds, his 10th double-double of the season and 27th of his career (one more than Joey Dorsey had in four seasons). Redshirt-freshman K.J. Lawson added 20 points and 12 rebounds, the sixth time he's doubled up his younger brother's stat-line combo. That was the commonplace.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Keon Clergeot

Into the playing-time void left by center Chad Rykhoek, though, stepped Clergeot. With the senior center watching from the bench, a boot hugging his dislocated left ankle, Clergeot scored 23 points in 21 minutes, hitting six of seven shots from the field, including all four of his attempts from beyond the three-point arc. Shortly after UIW climbed within two points (21-19) midway through the first half, Clergeot scored seven points in 24 seconds, hitting three-pointers on consecutive possessions and draining a free throw after being fouled on the second. (Clergeot hit all seven of his foul shots for the game.) Over a four-minute stretch, Memphis extended its lead from two points to 14 (34-20), and managed to cruise the remainder of the contest.

"It's a relief," said point guard Jeremiah Martin, when asked about Clergeot's impact from the bench. "It takes pressure off me. I can pick up my defensive intensity, play a little harder." Martin had his lightest workload (29 minutes) in five games, but still led Memphis with seven assists.

"He's my roommate," added Dedric Lawson, "and I told him to be ready today, that I thought his number would get called. He did what he's supposed to do."

"He's just got to keep his head clear," said K.J. Lawson. "When a guy comes out of high school averaging 25 points, you just gotta take it game by game. Soak in the knowledge and be ready to play when your number's called."

Markel Crawford added 11 points to help the Tigers improve to 9-3 in their final tune-up before American Athletic Conference play opens next week. UIW falls to 5-6 for the season.

"We came ready to play, focused," said Tiger coach Tubby Smith. "It's easy to look past a game like this, especially with the holiday break. Incarnate Word was aggressive; I knew they'd scrap. I like the way our team played, especially Keon. He's been struggling, but he stepped up tonight and played extremely well."

Smith is now coordinating a limited roster, forced to start junior Jimario Rivers and boost the playing time of reserves like Clergeot and Craig Randall. From mixing defenses to a continued emphasis on moving the ball, the veteran coach seems prepared for the heightened challenges ahead. "For me, a win is giving it your all," he said. "We need to improve our outside shooting, continue to share the basketball. We're going to have to improve between now and December 27th [when SMU visits]."

Frustrated with a first-half possession in which his team did not share the basketball as expected, Smith slammed the scorer's table with his right hand. Like Clergeot's shooting, it was an atypical outburst for the 2016-17 Memphis Tigers. When asked about his display after the game, Smith smiled before answering: "I was trying to wake up the crowd."

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Boca Raton Bowl: Western Kentucky 51, Tigers 31

Posted By on Tue, Dec 20, 2016 at 10:16 PM

Mike Norvell's first season as coach of the Memphis Tigers ended Tuesday night in South Florida. Facing one of college football's top-scoring teams, the U of M was unable to answer with enough offense of its own. Western Kentucky tailback Anthony Wales carried the ball 35 times for 253 yards and three touchdowns (while also catching four passes for 84 yards) and Hilltopper quarterback Mike White passed for 336 yards and three scores to lead the Conference USA champs. Western Kentucky accumulated 598 yards of total offense, the seventh time this season Memphis has allowed more than 500 yards in a game.

In scoring 31 points, Memphis finished with a season total of 505, only the second time (after last season's 522) the Tigers have topped 500 points in a campaign. Wide receiver Anthony Miller played a starring role (again) with 11 catches for 151 yards and three touchdowns, giving him season totals of 95 receptions, 1,434 yards, and 14 touchdowns, all single-season marks for the Memphis program. Tiger quarterback Riley Ferguson threw for 372 yards and four touchdowns, establishing a new Tiger record for touchdowns in a season with 32. But he also threw an interception, lost a fumble, and missed a second-half series after injuring his left ankle. (He returned after the injury and threw a 45-yard scoring strike to Miller.)

Memphis took an early 7-0 lead on a screen pass Tony Pollard took 45 yards down the right sideline. But the Hilltoppers scored touchdowns on their next four possessions to take a 28-17 lead into the halftime break. The Tigers' all-conference kicker, Jake Elliott, hit the left upright on a 43-yard field-goal attempt early in the second quarter, costing Memphis precious points in a game dominated by the two offenses.

White connected with Taywan Taylor for a 41-yard touchdown early in the third quarter to extend WKU's lead to 35-17. Taylor finished the game with nine grabs for 144 yards.

The Memphis offense turned the ball over on downs on its first possession of the second half then lost a fumble on its second, leading to a three-yard touchdown run by Wales that put the game out of reach (41-17) midway through the third quarter.

Western Kentucky thoroughly dominated the ground game, rushing for 262 yards to the Tigers' 73.

The loss drops Memphis to 8-5 for the season while Western Kentucky finishes with eight straight wins and an 11-3 record.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Tigers 99, Oklahoma 94 (OT)

Posted By on Sat, Dec 17, 2016 at 2:19 PM

Memphis earned what could be called its most impressive victory in three years this afternoon in Norman, Oklahoma. A team not known for its prowess at the free-throw line hit 28 of 32 from the stripe, most importantly six of six in the final minute of regulation and four of four in the final minute of overtime to earn its eighth win of the season. Sophomore forward Dedric Lawson introduced himself to a national-TV audience by scoring 26 points and pulling down 12 rebounds in 43 minutes of action, his ninth double-double of the season (and 26th of his career).

The win will certainly be dedicated to senior center Chad Rykhoek, who went down late in the first half with what appeared to be a serious injury to his left ankle. (Rykhoek left the floor on a rolling cart.) The Tigers' bench scored only eight points, all of them by Rykhoek's replacement, junior Jimario Rivers.

The Sooners almost shot the Tigers out of the building in the first half, hitting 17 of their first 21 field-goal attempts, including 13 in a row over an eight-minute stretch to take a 13-point lead. But the Tigers rolled with the punches, closing the gap to nine (47-38) at halftime.

Memphis stayed within 10 points throughout the second half, finally closing to a single-possession deficit inside the game's final seven minutes. Sophomore point guard Jeremiah Martin stole a Sooner pass and drew a foul in transition with just under a minute to play and Memphis down 77-76. He hit both free throws to give the Tigers their first lead of the game. (Martin entered the game shooting 50 percent from the foul line this season.) Martin hit two more free throws and Markel Crawford connected on four of four down the stretch as Oklahoma intentionally fouled to stop the clock. But Sooner guard Jordan Woodard slung in a three-pointer off the glass from the left wing with less than a second to play to force overtime.

Martin opened scoring in the extra session by converting a three-point play. Rivers followed with a dunk, but Oklahoma tied things at 89 on two baskets (one of them a trey) by Woodard. Memphis took the lead for good when Dedric Lawson hit a jumper from the left elbow with 2:30 to play. He and his brother, K.J. Lawson, each hit two free throws in the final minute to secure the win.

For the game, the Tigers hit 57 percent of their field-goal attempts. After its red-hot start, Oklahoma finished at merely 48 percent from the field. The Sooners fall to 6-4 for the season.

Martin finished with a career-high 25 points, Crawford added 20, and K.J. Lawson 19. Woodard led the Sooners with 22 points.

The win is the Tigers' first true road victory of the season and improves the U of M record to 8-3. Memphis returns home to play Incarnate Word at FedExForum next Wednesday. It will be the Tigers' final test before conference play opens with a home tilt against SMU on December 27th.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Monmouth 82, Tigers 79

Posted By on Tue, Dec 13, 2016 at 11:42 PM

Tiger sophomore Jeremiah Martin has been among the most sure-handed point guards in the country this season. He entered Tuesday night's game at FedExForum with only 17 turnovers in 296 minutes of game action. But with his team down a point with less than ten seconds to play, Martin — tightly guarded along the left sideline — lost control of his footing and dribble, giving Monmouth the ball with a solitary second left on the game clock. Two Je'lon Hornbeak free throws later and Memphis had its first home loss of the season, falling to 7-3 overall. The Hawks — expected to be contenders for the MAAC crown — improved to 9-2 and have now won eight straight.

"We probably should have called timeout and set something else up," acknowledged Memphis coach Tubby Smith after the game. "We were trying to set up a pick and roll with Dedric [Lawson], maybe a lob or a bounce pass."
Jeremiah Martin - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jeremiah Martin

Smith was quick to point out that the final play was merely one instance in which his team was outplayed. "They did a good job of confusing us. They showed us some zone, then man-to-man. They're quick enough on the perimeter that they can do that and recover pretty well." Hornbeak and undersized point guard Justin Robinson each had 21 points for the Hawks, Hornbeak hitting six of seven attempts from three-point range.

The Tigers led by 10 (45-35) at halftime, Dedric Lawson showing the way with 10 points and 10 rebounds in the game's first 20 minutes. (Lawson's 25th career double-double ties him for 10th in Memphis history.) His three-pointer with 12:35 to play gave Memphis a 60-53 lead.

Over the game's next four minutes, though, the Hawks enjoyed a 15-7 run to take the lead, Austin Tilghman completing the run with a three-point play for a 68-67 Monmouth advantage.

Martin converted a three-point play of his own with 2:03 left on the clock to tie the score at 77. After Monmouth converted a free throw, Markel Crawford hit a layup to give the Tigers a 79-78 lead. The Hawks turned the ball over on the ensuing possession, but the Tigers gave it right back on an inbounds play near the end of the shot clock.

Robinson attacked the lane and drew a foul on Dedric Lawson with 14.2 seconds left. He hit both free throws to put Monmouth back on top, 80-79, setting up the final mishandled possession for Martin and the Tigers.

"They had a bunch of second-chance points [in the second half], and that really hurt us," said Smith. "We didn't box out on the weak side, and they were beating us off the dribble a lot. The post player has to help. That's where we started to lose momentum. They made some open shots, and made a nice backdoor play that caught us. We were tensing up. And we missed some open shots. When you don't match a team that's offensive-oriented like this . . . that hurts." Monmouth has scored at least 76 points in all eights games of its winning streak.

After falling two blocks shy of the fourth triple-double in Tiger history Saturday against UAB, Dedric Lawson came up just three assists shy of the achievement Tuesday night, adding 18 points and 14 rebounds. Martin matched his career-high 14 points, K.J. Lawson added 13, and Crawford 12. For the second game in a row, the quartet all played at least 36 minutes. Center Chad Rykhoek added a season-high 12 points in 18 minutes of action. Memphis shot 47 percent from the field but missed 11 of 32 free throws.

The Tigers travel to Oklahoma Saturday to face the Sooners of the Big 12. They return to FedExForum next Wednesday to host Incarnate Word of the Southland Conference.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Tigers 62, UAB 55

Posted By on Sat, Dec 10, 2016 at 3:23 PM

It felt like the Tiger basketball season began Saturday afternoon at FedExForum.

Playing in front of their biggest — certainly their loudest — crowd of the season (announced attendance: 9,424), the Tigers erased a nine-point deficit over the last 17 minutes against an old rival they hadn't seen in more than three years. "We needed every person screaming and hollering," said Memphis coach Tubby Smith after his team improved to 7-2 for the season. "That's the kind of crowd we need."
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dedric Lawson

Sophomore forward Dedric Lawson played like the All-America candidate he's becoming, scoring 24 points, pulling down 10 rebounds, and blocking eight shots. The younger of the team's Lawson brothers came within two blocks of the program's fourth triple-double and merely one block of the Tigers' single-game record of nine (held by Keith Lee and David Vaughn). Better yet, Lawson avoided foul trouble against the physical UAB front line of Chris Cokley and William Lee, not being whistled until more than 13 minutes had expired in the second half. When asked how a player blocks eight shots without committing fouls, Lawson emphasized his approach from the weak side, and his ability to time a block attempt for after the ball has left a shooter's hands.

The Blazers (now 5-5) led 29-25 at halftime and extended their lead to 36-27 over the first three minutes of the second half. But the Tigers managed a few consecutive defensive stops, allowing them to begin a lengthy run that swung the score by 16 points in their favor. Freshman swingman K.J. Lawson gave Memphis its first lead of the half (48-46) with a short jump-hook at the 8:05 mark.

A two-minute sequence that began with just under six minutes to play swung the game the Tigers' way for good. Dedric Lawson converted a driving layup for a 52-49 lead and the Tigers forced a 10-second violation upon the Blazers' inbounding the ball. Junior guard Markel Crawford converted a layup (54-49) and Dedric Lawson blocked a UAB attempt, then followed with a jumper from the right elbow for a seven-point Tiger cushion. UAB never again closed within five points.

Crawford finished the game with 16 points and was one of four Tigers (also Jeremiah Martin and the Lawson brothers) to play at least 37 minutes. "We gotta do what we have to do to win," said Smith. "These guys are playing well together. We need to get some more out of Chad [Rykhoek], Craig [Randall], and Christian [Kessee]. When we get guys in there, though, they need to be productive."

The Tigers managed to outscore a bigger team in the paint (40-28) and contributed only eight turnovers (with 14 assists on 22 field goals). Cokley led UAB with 16 points, but the Blazers shot merely 35.7 percent for the game. Memphis converted 39.3 percent from the field. Both teams were a woeful two for 12 from three-point range.

The win is the Tigers' 16th straight over the program founded by former Tiger coach Gene Bartow. The teams will meet again next season in Birmingham. UAB is among the favorites this season in Conference USA. For the Tigers' current players, it was their first taste of a regional rivalry. But Crawford recognized a difference: "It's as loud as it's been in here in a long time, so thanks to Tiger Nation for coming out."

The U of M returns to action Tuesday night when Monmouth visits FedExForum. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Ole Miss 85, Tigers 77

Posted By on Sat, Dec 3, 2016 at 2:24 PM

The Tigers traveled to Oxford, Mississippi, Saturday for their first true road test of the season. Forced to play much of the game without star forward Dedric Lawson — limited to 22 minutes by foul trouble — the U of M took the lead midway through the second half, only to surrender the contest on a 17-1 Rebel run fueled by free throws.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy
  • Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy

Memphis trailed throughout the first half when both Dedric and K.J. Lawson were forced to the bench with two fouls. A Markel Crawford three-pointer helped the Tigers close within one (27-26) with just over eight minutes to play in the half, but Ole Miss enjoyed a 10-run before Cullen Neal drained a trey to give Ole Miss a 47-37 lead at the break.

Even with Dedric Lawson sidelined, Memphis exploded in the second half, turning a 14-point deficit into a  5-point lead with a 24-5 run. A steal and dunk by Crawford gave the Tigers their first lead of the game (58-57) with just over 11 minutes to play. The lead grew to 68-64 before the Rebels took over for good. Five straight free throws gave Ole Miss a 70-68 lead and the U of M would get no closer. Both teams are now 6-2 for the season.

K.J. Lawson led Memphis with 17 points, Crawford added 16, and Jeremiah Martin had 14. Sebastian Saiz paced the Rebels with 20 points.

The Tigers will have a week off before returning to play next Saturday. Longtime rival UAB returns to FedExForum for a noon tip-off. The teams have not played since Memphis left Conference USA for the American Athletic Conference after the 2012-13 season.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Tigers 84, Jackson State 69

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2016 at 11:26 PM

Some nights, 20 minutes of basketball can win you the game. The Tigers shot a blistering 78 percent in the first half Wednesday night to take a 50-32 lead into the locker room at the break. It proved to be enough for the hometown Tigers to cruise through the second half — in which they were outscored by JSU, 37-34 — and win their sixth game of the season. Dedric Lawson scored 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, his sixth double-double in seven games (and 23rd of his 40-game career). Redshirt-freshman K.J. Lawson led Memphis with 18 points, pulled down seven rebounds and handed out five assists.

The Tiger offense was efficient, accumulating 21 assists on 27 field goals and committing only 11 turnovers. It's the sixth game this season Memphis has had more assists than turnovers, all of them victories. "This is a group that loves to play together," said junior guard Markel Crawford, who had 15 points in 37 minutes. "Coach [Tubby Smith] has emphasized moving the ball, and that's part of our identity."
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • K.J. Lawson

Sophomore point guard Jeremiah Martin continued his ball-control ways, handing out eight assists with but a single turnover. Jimario Rivers came off the bench and added 13 points for the Tigers.

As for the drop in scoring efficiency after halftime, Crawford said it's to be expected after such a lengthy surge to start the game. "Teams are gonna make a run," he said. "We stuck to the game plan, getting the ball inside. But teams are gonna make shots."

JSU's Edric Dennis made seven of 17 shots (four of them three-pointers) to help the visitors pull within eight points (67-59) with just under nine minutes to play. But senior guard Christian Kessee hit a big three-pointer to get the lead back to double digits and ease any worried minds at FedExForum. "That gave us some big relief," said Smith. "He stepped up without hesitation. It gave everybody encouragement; I know it did me."

Crawford suggested the team's two-game trip to Florida last weekend (games they split) should serve as a reset of sorts for the young season. "The time in Florida helped us mature," he said. "See things we need to work on. We're ready to play anybody, and we'll be prepared for anyone down the road."

Down the road in Oxford this Saturday, will be the Ole Miss Rebels (losers Wednesday to Middle Tennessee). The Tigers, now 6-1, will aim to avenge a loss to their regional SEC rivals last season at FedExForum. "We prepare the same way," emphasized Smith, "home or road. We'll have to play like we did in the first half tonight to win. It helps that we've had a variety of styles that we've played against."

Monday, November 28, 2016

Tiger Football: The Rising Continues

Posted By on Mon, Nov 28, 2016 at 11:13 AM

Twenty-seven wins (so far) over the last three years for the Memphis Tiger football team. This is a good time to pause and consider another recent three-year period (2009-11) during which the U of M won a total of five games. By the most quantifiable measure (victories), the Memphis football program has improved more than five-fold during a single presidential administration. This has occurred, remember, in the middle of the SEC jungle, where attracting talent — the depth of talent required to win consistently in college football — has proved nearly impossible for generations. The turn-around has been Herculean.

Here are a few achievements of the 2016 Memphis Tigers that will stay with us.

Points galore. Offense sells tickets. Offense keeps television viewers tuned in. The last three Memphis teams have scored more points than any previous team over the program's 105-year history. The 2016 Tigers have scored more points in 12 games (474) than the 2014 team did in 13 (471), and you'll remember that 2014 team featured Paxton Lynch at quarterback and finished ranked 25th in the country. Should Memphis score 49 points in its bowl game (merely 10 points above its average), it will break last year's season record for points in a season (522). For perspective, the season point totals during that miserable stretch from 2009 to 2011: 262, 173, 195.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Anthony Miller

Ant-Man. Entering this season, the Memphis single-game record for receptions was 13 (Maurice Avery in 2003), for receiving yards, 186 (Bob Sherlag in 1965). Isaac Bruce held the single-season records for receptions (74) and receiving yards (1,054). All of these marks now belong to junior Anthony Miller, the former walk-on from Christian Brothers High School whose two fourth-quarter touchdowns beat Houston last Friday. The game-winning score was Miller's 15th catch of the contest. Miller had 250 yards in a Tiger loss to Tulsa on October 29th. With a bowl game to play, he's caught 84 passes for 1,283 yards. Before the 2015 season, then-Tiger coach Justin Fuente described Miller as "different from anyone else we have." He saw what was coming. Should Miller return for his senior season — and he's suggested he will — the Tiger receiving record book can be placed on the highest proverbial shelf in the Hardaway Hall of Fame.

Big wins.The Tigers didn't beat Ole Miss this season, but they did handle a Top-20 team at the Liberty Bowl (Houston) for a second straight season. You have to go back a quarter century to count the two previous Memphis wins over Top-20 opposition (Tennessee in 1996, USC in 1991). And with hindsight, the Tigers' 34-27 win over Temple at the Liberty Bowl on October 6th is significant, as it's the only conference loss suffered by the Owls, who play Navy this Saturday in the AAC Championship. Counting wins is one thing. Notching memorable victories helps build a culture of success.

Backfield stars. Miller stole the show with his romp through the receiving record book, but he got there on the right arm of junior quarterback Riley Ferguson, the transfer who entered the season as an unknown value asset. He proceeded to pass for 3,326 yards (second in program history) and 28 touchdowns, tying the record set by Lynch last season. Ferguson was named Offensive Player of the Week by the AAC three times. And let's not forget the efforts of Doroland Dorceus. The junior tailback gained 783 yards on the ground and averaged a stellar 6.2 yards per carry. He scored ten touchdowns and now ranks fourth in Tiger history with 25 for his career.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Riley Ferguson

Steady crowds at the Liberty Bowl. In 2013, the Tigers hosted seven games and sold a total of 199,760 tickets (28,537 per game). For seven games this season, the U of M sold 261,419 tickets (37,345 per game). That is growth that can be counted in blue-clad bodies (the difference is greater than the stadium's current capacity). This year's average attendance dropped by more than 6,000 from last year's, but Ole Miss visited in 2015 and more than 60,000 fans at that game boosted the season total considerably. (The Rebels won't be back until 2019.) The goal, I've felt all along, should be 40,000 fans in the Liberty Bowl for a Tiger football game. Any game. (The largest crowd this season was for the opener against SEMO: 42,876.) It's a shame an upper portion of the Liberty Bowl couldn't be shaved off for game day, because the atmosphere would be enhanced without empty sections framing fans on either side of the stadium. Winning and scoring (a lot) sell tickets. Based on 12 games under the watch of coach Mike Norvell, the future appears bright for U of M football.

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Tigers 100, Iowa 92

Posted By on Sat, Nov 26, 2016 at 5:49 PM

Less than 24 hours after staggering through 40 minutes of an ugly dance with Providence, the Tigers found their shooting touch and beat Iowa in the consolation game of the Emerald Coast Classic in Destin, Florida. Dedric Lawson hit 15 of 22 shots from the field and scored a career-high 35 points to lead Memphis as the Tigers improved to 5-1 and earned their first win over a major-conference opponent this season. Lawson added 11 rebounds, while his older brother, K.J. Lawson, scored 17 points and grabbed 10 boards for the brothers' fourth tandem double-double of the season. Dedric played 38 minutes while K.J. logged 39.

Markel Crawford added 16 points, Jeremiah Martin 14, and Craig Randall 15 off the bench in helping the Tigers reach 100 points for the second time in five days. The Tigers shot 56 percent from the field and needed the marksmanship as the Hawkeyes hit 54 percent of their shots. Peter Jok scored a game-high 42 points for Iowa.

The Tigers return home Wednesday night when Jackson State visits FedExForum. Tip-off is 8 p.m.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Providence 60, Tigers 51

Posted By on Fri, Nov 25, 2016 at 10:51 PM

A college basketball team's season really doesn't begin until it takes the show on the road. The Tigers traveled to Destin, Florida, to face Providence in the semifinals of the Emerald Coast Classic Friday night, and played like a team starting its season. Memphis shot a miserable 34 percent from the field and missed 18 of 23 three-point attempts in falling to to the Friars for its first loss of the season. The Tigers are now 4-1, having taken their first four games against underwhelming competition at FedExForum.

Sophomore forward Dedric Lawson fell a rebound shy of his fifth straight double double (19 points and 9 rebounds), missing much of the second half in foul trouble. Also limited by foul trouble, his brother, K.J. Lawson, scored but four points and pulled down six rebounds. Chad Rykhoek scored ten points for the U of M.

Memphis led by as many as 12 points in the first half, but the Friars enjoyed an 8-0 run prior to halftime, making the score 30-29 in favor of the Tigers at the break. Providence took its first lead with just less than ten minutes left to play. Dedric Lawson closed the Tigers' deficit to three points with a trey at the 3:22 mark, but Providence finished the game on an 11-5 run to improve its record to 4-1. Rodney Bullock led the Friars with 18 points and Emmitt Holt added 16.

The Tigers will face Iowa in Saturday's consolation game, the Hawkeyes 74-41 losers to Virginia in Friday night's opening semifinal.

Tigers 48, #18 Houston 44

Posted By on Fri, Nov 25, 2016 at 4:52 PM

It took 12 games as a head coach for Mike Norvell to earn his first Gatorade shower.

Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson hit his favorite target, Anthony Miller, on a slant pattern for a 10-yard touchdown with 19 seconds to play Friday afternoon to give the Tigers their biggest win of the season to date. The duo's 15th connection of the game gave Memphis the victory after four lead changes in the game's final ten minutes. After a week of speculation about whether or not he would play following an undisclosed injury last week at Cincinnati, Ferguson completed 30 of 45 passes for 409 yards and four touchdowns. As for Miller, the record-setting junior scored two of those touchdowns and added 169 yards to the single-season record he'd already established (now 1,283). Miller shattered Isaac Bruce's single-season mark for receptions in a season (74) and now has 84 with a bowl game to play.

The heart-pounding win made for fitting holiday fare, with 36,527 fans in the Liberty Bowl for Senior Day and a national-TV audience watching, ABC hooked largely by Cougar upsets earlier this season of Top-5 opponents Oklahoma and Louisville. Instead, Memphis ended a six-game losing streak to its longtime rival from Texas and avenged a one-point loss last season.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Riley Ferguson

"What a game," said a partially dry Norvell after the win. "I'm so very proud of this football team, this coaching staff, everyone associated with this program. We had an opportunity to go out and do something special. The way our guys prepared was incredible. I'm glad the game went the way it did — with the ups and downs — because it provided us an opportunity to show our heart and character, how our guys would respond. Houston has a terrific football team. But today, our guys would not be denied. To see the joy and excitement in that locker room . . . that's what makes coaching."

Memphis scored on its second play from scrimmage, a 67-yard pass from Ferguson to Phil Mayhue, and proceeded to score on every other possession — five of them — in the first half for a 34-17 lead. The Cougars had the lone punt of the first half, and an interception by junior safety Shaun Rupert preceded a two-yard Darrell Henderson touchdown run that seemed to give the Tigers a cushion heading into the second half.

Houston scored the next 20 points, though, quarterback Greg Ward tossing a pair of lengthy touchdown passes, first to Chance Allen (35 yards), then to Linell Bonner for 55 to give the Cougars their first lead (37-34) with just over seven minutes to play in the game.

A 35-yard surgical strike from Ferguson to Miller in the right corner of the end zone seized the lead back for the Tigers and culminated a 75-yard drive with 3:49 left on the clock. But the Cougars responded and drove 75 yards themselves, Ward hitting Allen just inside the right boundary of the end zone for a 44-41 Houston lead with 1:29 to play.

"We live for this," said Ferguson when asked about his team's final drive of the game. "I was talking with [reserve quarterback] Jason Stewart on the sideline. It's like MJ [Michael Jordan]. Give us the ball."

After a 12-yard Ferguson scramble took the ball to the Memphis 40-yard line, Ferguson found Mayhue, who made a leaping catch near the sideline for a 30-yard gain. A pass interference penalty on Cougar cornerback Brandon Wilson took the ball to the Houston 15 with less than a minute to play. Doroland Dorceus ran inside for five yards, setting up the game-winning pass to Miller.
Doroland Dorceus - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Doroland Dorceus

"We knew if we got man [coverage], we were going to work Anthony," said Norvell. "It was a great play call by [offensive coordinator] Chip Long. They executed. What a great ending."

Ferguson laughed when asked about his prime target. "Try and guard him," he said. "Throw the ball to Anthony . . . and try and guard him."

"You've got to have that confidence," said Miller, "that no one can stop you. I saw the linebackers stepping up, which left the middle wide open. This is one of the biggest wins of my life. Coach says big-time players make big-time plays, in big-time situations. Phil Mayhue made some huge catches. And shout-out to the O-line." Mayhue finished the game with six catches for 142 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The Tigers won despite giving up 624 yards on an astounding 101 plays by the Houston offense. This despite eight tackles behind the Houston line of scrimmage. Junior safety Jonathan Cook had 10 solo tackles to lead the Tigers and sophomore Tye Northern added nine.

The U of M ground attack accumulated 146 yards against a Cougar defense that came into the game allowing fewer than 100 per game. Overall, Memphis gained 555 yards, its third-highest total of the season.

"Early in the week," said Norvell, "we felt good about what we could do. Plans don't always look very good on game day, but our kids prepared. They studied. They had a focus. We had to be balanced. We ran the ball for 150 yards against a team that doesn't give up 100 all year. Our offensive line . . . what an incredible job."

The win improves the Tiger record to 8-4 (5-3 in the American Athletic Conference), while Houston falls to 9-3 (5-3). Memphis now awaits an invitation to its postseason game, one of eight bowls affiliated with the AAC.
Talk has centered around the Boca Raton Bowl (December 20th) and the Birmingham Bowl (December 29th), the latter where the Tigers' 2015 season ended with a loss to Auburn.

Norvell considers any bowl destination its own championship of sorts. "Every bowl game is a reward," he said. "It's an opportunity to be in that locker room one more time with that group of guys. It's going to be special. We're going to be grateful, and we're going to prepare to be victorious. We want to maximize every opportunity. When you walk in our team room, that's what you see at the top of our pyramid: finish as bowl champions. Every year."


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