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Rocked in Maui, Tigers roll – eventually – over JSU

by J.R. Moorhead
Special to the Tri-State Defender

On the island…

Before the holidays, Memphis was slated to play in the Maui Invitational Tournament. And after all the hype, the Tigers won only one of the three games that they played.

The Tigers were scheduled to play in the first game of the tournament against a No. 15 Michigan squad. The tip-off was at 8 a.m. local time and it appeared that Memphis needed multiple cups of coffee, getting off to a sluggish start that had become a sizeable deficit by halftime.  

 The Memphis Tigers pressing defense causes another JSU Turnover. (Photo by Warren Roseborough)

With a double digit lead in the second half, Michigan deployed an extremely tight 1-3-1 defense that would not allow the Tigers to penetrate the lane and forced them to take long shots.  That coaching decision forced Memphis to rain threes, and on a day when the Tigers weren’t shooting well at all, they could never pull into the lead.

The loss pitted Memphis against Tennessee in an old-fashion rivalry game that many called the game of the tournament after it was all said and done. From the moment the ball was thrown up into the air, hard-nosed fast-paced basketball ensued.

Memphis held a small lead for most of the game, but UT managed to tie it up by the end of regulation and force not one but two overtimes. The Vols had the ball with seconds left in the second overtime when Wesley Witherspoon stepped up with a big blocked shot. In a wild ending, Witherspoon dribbled the ball once and then took a step, thinking the clocked expired.  He was called for a travel and Tennessee had one more chance with .8 seconds left. They were unable to convert and Memphis escaped a nail-biter with a win.

The next game for the Tigers was the fifth place game, in which they played the Georgetown Hoyas. Memphis jumped out to an early lead, but the Tigers were unable to hold onto it for long. The Hoyas steadily worked their way back into the game.

During the second half, Memphis made a late rally, but the Tigers had multiple shots rim in and out. The frustration showed with the players as they fired up more and more attempts. On this day the breaks didn’t fall in Memphis’ favor and Georgetown left Maui with the fifth place trophy.

Memphis went into the tournament ranked No. 8, but after the two losses they returned to the mainland No. 22. Even though the Tigers didn’t perform as well as they would have hoped, there were good things to take from these games. The win against UT will probably end up being a top 50 RPI win for the Tigers. Also, Memphis gets a chance for revenge against the Hoyas, as they are scheduled to play Georgetown and Tennessee again later this season.

After a mediocre Maui, Memphis looked to rebound against Jackson State University last Monday (Nov. 28) night.

At the beginning of the game, the Tigers appeared a little slow. Coach Josh Pastner made use of a few different rotations and this could have had something to do with the slow start. Memphis shot poorly in the first half and was only able to take a six-point lead into the locker room, 25-19.

In the second half, Memphis came to life and the rout was on. The U of M outscored JSU 50-26 in the second half, beating the other Tigers by a final of 75-45. The second-half dominance unfolded as the Tigers ratcheted up their defensive efforts. JSU committed 23 total turnovers and shot just over 30 percent for the game.

Memphis plays Austin Peay on Saturday (Dec. 3) and it should be another good chance for the Tigers to improve. As for the two early losses, it’s always better to get them out of the way before March.

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