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Tigers out the gate and kicking up a fuss

Basketball is alive and well in Memphis. The The University of Memphis basketball team's season started Tuesday with a 97-81 victory against the Belmont Bruins of Nashville. by J.R. Moorhead
Special to the Tri-State Defender

With the announcement a few short days ago that the NBA players are filing an antitrust lawsuit against the NBA owners, it doesn’t seem like the Memphis Grizzlies will be hitting the hardwood any time soon.

 
Tigers point guard Joe Jackson and the U of M were more than Belmont could handle. (Photos by Warren Roseborough)

 
 Memphis Tigers first-year forward Stan Simpson blocks the shot of Mick Hedgepeth of Belmont.

 
 Memphis Head Coach Josh Pastner has a top-notch team of Tigers on his hands.

Basketball, however, is alive and well in Memphis.

The University of Memphis basketball team had their final tune up last Friday against the Christian Brothers University Buccaneers, prevailing 79-56. CBU ran a Princeton-style offense, trying to slow Memphis’ fast-pace play, but the Tigers’ athletic defense caused the Bucs to commit 19 turnovers. CBU ended the game shooting a mere 39 percent from the field.

Summation: Memphis straight up outmatched CBU physically and the Tigers looked ready to start the regular season.

The season started Tuesday with a 97-81 victory against the Belmont Bruins of Nashville. The Bruins were coming off a one-point loss to No. 6 Duke the previous week and their confidence had to be soaring. Showing respect for Coach Rick Byrd and his Bruins, Coach Josh Pastner of Memphis said, “Belmont is a top 25 team.”

Before the game, a tribute video was played on the big screen showcasing past and present players in such a cinematic fashion that gave many goose bumps. Then, the Tigers took the floor wearing throwback jerseys from the ’72-’73 season, honoring the late Larry Finch with a No. 21 patch on their shoulder straps.

“I love the uniforms, and I’m not even a gear guy,” said Pastner, admitting that he still wears the same sneakers from his assistant coaching days.

The nearly 16,300 people that gathered at the FedExForum got to see something Tuesday that they have been waiting on for a few years. Wesley Witherspoon finally showed everyone his true potential. He went a perfect 6-6 from the field, with three of those from three-point range in the first half, scoring a total of 16 points.

Pastner remarked after the game that Wesley, who finished with 22 points and 5 rebounds, “looked like an elite player.” More important than the points, Witherspoon looked like a leader on the court.

In the first half, Belmont shot 35 percent from the field, but only trailed by seven points because the Tigers only shot 56 percent from the free throw line in the half, which was riddled with fouls, 26 total.

The second half was much the same as Memphis cruised. The Tigers shot better from the charity stripe and finished the game 50 percent from beyond the arc. Also, Memphis continued to show they can spread the ball around, totaling 20 team assists. However, the Bruins never gave up and at one point trimmed the lead to 7 points, but their 18 turnovers and lackluster shooting performance made it impossible to overcome the deficit.

With their confidence buoyed, the Tigers don’t have long to celebrate, as they are headed to Maui to play a Top 20 team in Michigan. Going forward, the hype around the Tigers is likely to grow, but the team doesn’t show any outward signs of being susceptible to distraction.

In a phrase borrowed from Bill Belichick, the coach of the New England Patriots, Pastner tells his players “to ignore the noise.”

While Memphis might not be listening to the noise, if they keep playing at the level they are now, they just may make some noise of their own in Maui next week.

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