Kicking someone when they are down isn't exactly a valiant character trait.
Yet, competitive sports sometimes require that killer instinct. Putting your foot on your opponent's figurative throat and putting them out of misery is a necessary quality for all good teams.
Now, this scenario doesn't play out in every game, but when top teams play teams from the minor conferences and divisions it often does. So when Memphis took on the Jackson State Tigers last Saturday (Dec. 28), it appeared that a blowout was on the horizon. Memphis is ranked #15 in the country and JSU is a 4-7 team from the SWAC.
Early on, it looked like Memphis would do just that. Threes from Chris Crawford and Joe Jackson helped propel the Tigers to a 21-6 lead ten minutes into the first half. It appeared that Memphis' three-point shooting slump might be coming to an end.
As the Tigers of JSU settled in, they would deploy the same defensive strategy Memphis has seen many times this season. Jackson State stacked the paint and continued to force Memphis to shoot long jumpers and three pointers. And just as quickly as Memphis' Tigers heated up, they cooled off.
Still, the Memphis Tigers would lead the other Tigers by 12 (40-28) at halftime. And it appeared that the rout was on.
It looked like Memphis was going to beat JSU by 25 to 30 points, but as Tigers forward Shaq Goodwin described it after the game the Tigers began to "coast" through the second half. The "killer instinct" never kicked in and JSU would hang around.
At one point, JSU was one shot from closing the gap to single digits. Memphis ended up defeating the lesser Tigers 75-61, only outscoring them by two points in the second half.
A win is a win, but this one leaves many questions marks as Memphis heads into its first conference match-up on New Years' Eve against the Bulls of South Florida.
Memphis was dreadful from beyond the arc converting only 4 of 21 (19 percent). Coach Josh Pastner isn't worried.
"We are getting open looks, taking unselfish shots, they just aren't going in, but we are going to continue to shoot them," he said. "We will make threes; there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it."
Pastner has a very positive personality and with his self-described "glass overflowing outlook" his Tigers are just getting their misses out of their system.
Good attitude or not, Memphis has been terrible from three-point range. Combine that with 19-32 from the charity stripe and that could be the framework for a loss against stiffer competition.
Memphis has played a tough out-of-conference schedule thus far and that should prove helpful as the Tigers get into the meat of their conference play. Even so, the True Blue Nation shouldn't expect the Tigers' 27-game conference win streak to extend too far this year, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
A few more regular season losses are worth the training for the NCAA "big dance." Ultimately, wins in March and April are worth more than those in January. Let the preparation begin.