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."

Thursday, November 24, 2016

AAC Picks: Week 13

Posted By on Thu, Nov 24, 2016 at 8:00 AM

SEASON: 75-14

Houston at Memphis
Cincinnati at Tulsa

Tulane at UConn
East Carolina at Temple
Navy at SMU

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

21 Thoughts on Memphis Tiger Football

Posted By on Wed, Nov 23, 2016 at 8:00 AM

My favorite moment of every Tiger football season doesn't involve the pigskin. It's the line of senior players — with their families — across the Liberty Bowl field before kickoff of the season's final home game. We've reached an age where the notion of a senior college athlete is almost quaint. "What's wrong with him? Why isn't he a pro by now?"

That's silly, of course. The vast majority of college football seniors will play their final game in shoulder pads on Senior Day. For most, it's the end of a youth devoted to practices, weight rooms, film study, and training tables. And it's the last day they'll be "one of the guys" as defined in locker rooms from the lowest level of Division III right up to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. So here's to the 21 Tigers we'll salute Friday afternoon before the Houston game.

It takes a special kind of athlete — a special kind of person — to button your chinstrap every day knowing your name won't be heard on the p.a. system come Saturday. Whether it's taking hits or delivering them as a member of the scout team, these players shape the units we see in game action. And they're often the players sprinting downfield on special-teams units, establishing field position and exposing themselves to some of the sport's most violent hits. Among this year's seniors who played behind-the-scenes roles: wide receiver Drew Bishop (from St. George's Independent School), defensive lineman Latarius Brady (East High School), linebacker Lenard Harden (Ridgeway), defensive back Deandre Jordan, punter Evan Michael (Christian Brothers), long-snapper Trevor Morgan, defensive back Tye Northern, defensive back Jahmahl Pardner, quarterback Jason Stewart (two touchdown passes in relief of Riley Ferguson to help beat Cincinnati last Friday), and running back Tearris Wallace.
Jake Elliott - U OF M ATHLETICS
  • U of M Athletics
  • Jake Elliott

When B.J. Ross crumpled to the Liberty Bowl turf after taking a hit on the opening kickoff of the USF game (November 12th), we had the scariest moment of the 2016 season. After several minutes on the field, the Melbourne, Florida, native was taken off the field on a stretcher, directly to a local hospital. We received news in the press box around halftime that Ross was moving his limbs and appeared to be stabilized, a full recovery to be expected. The Tigers' loss that night was hard to take . . . until you thought of Ross on that stretcher. He'll leave the program as a reminder of just how tough football players must be to survive this brutal sport.

Chris Roberson (Central Baptist) took over at right tackle in the Navy game after starting the first two games of the season at left guard. He's helped pave the way for a Tiger offense that is only the fourth in program history to score 400 points in a season. (He also has the best beard the U of M has seen in years.) Tight end Daniel Montiel had the daunting task of succeeding Alan Cross (now with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers). He's started every game, caught 25 passes and scored three touchdowns. Wideout Daniel Hurd (Wooddale) has been a regular part of the receiving corps, averaging 12.4 yards on 16 catches.

Six seniors have played major roles for the Tiger defense. Lineman DeMarco Montgomery has been a regular starter after not starting a single game as a junior. Defensive back Dontrell Nelson (Olive Branch) has battled injuries this year, but intercepted at least one pass each of the last three seasons. Cornerback Chauncey Lanier has been a regular starter each of the last two seasons and had an interception in this year's win over Temple.

Nose tackle Donald Pennington, safety Chris Morley, and cornerback Arthur Maulet have started every game this season. Pennington and Morley have played in at least 10 games four straight seasons. Maulet has had two interceptions, a sack, and forced two fumbles this year alone.

Whether or not he wins the Lou Groza Award, Jake Elliott has left his mark as the greatest kicker in Memphis Tiger history. With a powerful right leg and mental strength honed as a competitive tennis player, Elliott passed the great Stephen Gostkowski atop the Tiger record charts for scoring (426 points) and field goals (78). He's drilled no fewer than 10 field goals from beyond 50 yards. (Elliott's 56-yarder against USF as a freshman is the longest in Memphis history.) And Elliott has been clutch. His game-winner at Temple in 2014 gave the Tigers a third consecutive win in a streak that would eventually reach 15 games. And in the Miami Beach Bowl that same season, Elliott connected from 54 yards (the second-longest in Tiger history) to extend overtime in a game Memphis would win to earn the program's first year-end Top 25 selection. He has twice been named Special Teams Player of the Year in the AAC. With a third straight 100-point season, there's no reason to believe Elliott won't take home the hardware a third time.

The best tribute for members of this senior class, of course, is their being together for the most wins over a three-year stretch (26) in Memphis football history.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Tigers 104, McNeese State 65

Posted By on Tue, Nov 22, 2016 at 10:15 PM

The Tigers' eight-day, four-game, warm-up homestand is complete. A rotation has been established (with emerging impact players), centered around sophomore forward Dedric Lawson. Players are healthy (with Providence looming Friday at the Emerald Coast Classic). And Dedric, it appears, is merely one half of a brother act first-year coach Tubby Smith will lean on all winter.

Memphis essentially put the Cowboys away in six minutes of basketball Tuesday night, exploding to a 17-1 lead. Reserve guard Craig Randall — among those emerging players of impact — scored 11 points in the game's first 14 minutes and finished with 18 (in just 21 minutes), three shy of the career high he set merely three days ago.
Jeremiah Martin - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jeremiah Martin

This was still a Lawson show. Dedric became the first Tiger in 21 years to start a season with four consecutive double-doubles (20 points and 10 rebounds). His older brother, redshirt-freshman K.J. Lawson, notched his third straight double-double (13 points and 10 rebounds) and dished out seven assists with but one turnover. Each player re-entered the game late, needing a single rebound for the statistical mark. The gesture was acknowledged by Dedric: "Thanks to Coach Smith. I appreciate it. He understands goals individuals are trying to reach."

It's the larger team goals that the U of M hopes to soon have in clearer focus. Based on numbers alone, the Tigers have separated themselves from Memphis teams of recent vintage. Not since 2010 has a Tiger team begun a season 4-0. Not since 2014 has a Tiger team scored 100 points in a game. And only once before has a Tiger team handed out as many assists as it did against the Cowboys (35).

"We started out with the right kind of energy, the right kind of focus," said Smith following the game. "They played unselfishly. We're pleased in some areas; others we have to get better."

Point guard Jeremiah Martin handed out seven assists with only one turnover, giving him totals of 29 and 7, respectively, through four games. Christian Kessee came off the bench and made his first real impact of the season with six assists and only one turnover himself. Freshman Keon Clergeot scored his first points of the season (11) in 16 productive minutes off the bench. If nothing else, these four opening games have infused a team with much-needed confidence as the schedule strengthens after Thanksgiving.

"Taking care of the basketball is critical," emphasized Smith. "The competition is going to be a lot stiffer now. Show me a team that's having a tough time winning, and I'll show you a team turning the ball over. We have some good ball-handling guards. When you can keep the ball in a guy like Jeremiah's hands . . . he was impressive."

Entering the holiday weekend, Smith expressed a few reasons to be grateful, quoting one of his father's favorite expressions: "Every day is a great day above ground." Two games over the holiday weekend (Providence followed by Virginia or Iowa) will test his team in ways it hasn't been challenged over the season's first eight days.  Such is the natural progression for a developing team.

"Preparation is the same," said Smith, "but we'll make adjustments. We'll see better athletes with Providence. I think we're ready."

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Tigers 99, Savannah State 86

Posted By on Sat, Nov 19, 2016 at 2:31 PM

Sophomore guard Craig Randall came off the bench and scored 21 points — more than double his previous career high — to lead Memphis to its third victory in six days, over another bunch of Tigers from Savannah State. The Tigers withstood several Savannah State runs fueled by long-distance shooting — the visitors made 16 of 48 shots from long range — to improve to 3-0 on the young season.

Six Tigers scored in double figures and sophomore forward Dedric Lawson became the 14th Tiger to have 20 career double-doubles. In scoring 21 points, grabbing 14 rebounds, and dishing out seven assists, Lawson fell three dimes short of the program's fourth triple-double. K.J. Lawson scored 14 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to join his younger brother in the double-double category for a second straight game.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Craig Randall

As his rotation begins to coalesce, Memphis coach Tubby Smith hopes to see more outbursts from role players like Randall. "I'm pulling for each kid to have great days," said Smith after the game. "I couldn't be happier for Craig. I'm impressed with what he's doing. We needed him to do that. I expect players to make every shot, to be honest with you. He works very hard in practice. He and Jeremiah [Martin] have been in the Finch Center religiously. It's paying off for him."

Savannah State closed within four points at halftime on a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Kamil Williams. Casey Wells hit six of seven from three-point range before the break and finished the game with eight treys and a game-high 24 points.

The U of M started the second half with a 10-3 run and a Randall three-pointer gave Memphis a 67-52 lead with just under 14 minutes left to play. But Savannah State twice closed the gap within single digits, the last time at 86-77 with just under five minutes left on the clock. Memphis dominated its undersized opponent n the rebounding department, 55-33, and managed to hit free throws (18 for 25) three days after missing 10 of 12 against Milwaukee.

Jeremiah Martin continued his evolution into this team's point guard, handing out eight assists (with three turnovers) in 33 minutes. Center Chad Rykhoek scored 10 points in 16 minutes, Markel Crawford added 14, and Jimario Rivers scored 11 points off the bench. Martin emphasized the scoring by committee is a result of the culture being established for the season ahead. "We don't care about who gets the credit," said the sophomore from Mitchell High School. "We don't even look at the scorebook. If someone's ahead of you, give it up to him."

"Everybody eats," added Randall. "Regardless of who scores, everybody's gonna enjoy it. As long as we get the win, we're fine."

The Tigers will have Sunday off then one day to prepare for McNeese State (tipoff at 7 p.m. Tuesday at FedExForum). Smith acknowledged he doesn't even know the Cowboys' record, emphasizing that his teams practice the same way, with the same intent, no matter the opponent. "We've been logging a lot of minutes," he said. "Thirty-two for Dedric today, 33 for Jeremiah. The key is consistency, continuity. We've got to keep them improving, with film study when we need to. That's how we keep them focused."

As for the improved free-throw shooting, Smith chuckled and said he gave the free-throw coach a raise. He then patted himself on the back.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Tigers 34, Cincinnati 7

Posted By on Fri, Nov 18, 2016 at 10:19 PM

The Tigers clinched a third straight winning season by earning their seventh victory Friday night at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati. Despite losing quarterback Riley Ferguson in the first quarter, Memphis rolled over their longtime rivals to improve to 7-4 for the season (4-3 in American Athletic Conference play).

Ferguson appeared to hit his head on the turf after being sacked on the Tigers' second series of the game. Senior Jason Stewart took over at quarterback and threw his first touchdown pass of the season, a short strike to tight end Joey Magnifico early in the second quarter.

The Tigers reached a couple of significant scoring milestones. They surpassed 400 points for the third straight season after tallying such a figure only once before (2004). And senior kicker Jake Elliott reached 100 points for his third straight season. Elliott has already broken the program records for career field goals (78) and points (426).

Curtis Akins and Chris Morley each intercepted Cincinnati quarterback Hayden Moore in the first quarter, setting up short scoring drives that gave Memphis a 13-0 lead. The Bearcats punted four times and lost a fumble in addition to the two first-half picks, contributing to a 27-0 Memphis lead at the break.

Stewart hit Anthony Miller for a 22-yard touchdown early in the third quarter and the only remaining score came on a Moore-to-Devin Gray pass less than two minutes into the fourth quarter. The Bearcat touchdown ended a streak of 39 Cincinnati drives without reaching pay dirt.

Stewart completed 13 of 15 passes for 138 yards and the two touchdowns. Tailback Doroland Dorceus ran for 66 yards and scored two touchdowns, giving him 24 in his Memphis career (fourth in Tiger history). The Memphis defense held Cincinnati to 242 yards for the game as the Bearcats fell to 3-8 on the season (1-6 in AAC play).

The victory establishes a new high for any three-year period in Tiger football history. Memphis has now won 26 games since the beginning of the 2014 season.

Next for the U of M will be Senior Day, the regular season finale against Houston next Friday at the Liberty Bowl. (Kickoff time for the game will be determined late Saturday night.) The Cougars are coming off a huge upset of 3rd-ranked Louisville Thursday night.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

AAC Picks: Week 12

Posted By on Thu, Nov 17, 2016 at 8:00 AM

SEASON: 69-13

Louisville at Houston

Memphis at Cincinnati

Tulsa at UCF
Navy at East Carolina
UConn at Boston College
Temple at Tulane

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