by J.R. Moorhead
Special to the Tri-State Defender
Austin Peay took Memphis’ Tigers into overtime and nearly knocked them off last year, suggesting that the Governors were not a team to be overlooked the next time around.
That time came last Saturday (Dec. 3) at the FedExForum. And although Austin Peay entered the game with a 0-8 record, Memphis Coach Josh Pastner and the Tigers knew not to take this year’s Governors lightly, especially since they are still predicted to win the Ohio Valley Conference.
Either Memphis did not want a repeat of last year or they did not want to begin as slow as they did last week against Jackson State because the Tigers got off to their hottest start in recent memory.
The Tigers’ first six made shots were all three pointers and helped them to race out to an early 18-10 lead. Their defense tightened up and only allowed the Governors to make 4 of their first 14 shots. Another Memphis run grew the lead to 25-10 and the Tigers never looked backed.
Memphis tallied five more 3 pointers in the first half, totaling 11 for the period, and took a 52-27 lead into halftime. This marked the third time this season that the Tigers have scored 50 plus points in a half. The second half was much the same as Memphis continued to drain treys. After the final horn, Memphis had made 15 threes, which tied the second highest total made in a single game in U of M history, a mark the Tigers have reached on eight different occasions.
The excellent shooting and lock-down defense powered Memphis to a 91-60 win, the largest margin of victory for the Tigers this season. Tiger sophomore guard Will Barton ended the game with 22 points and 13 rebounds, recording his second double-double of the season. Coach Pastner remarked after the game that Barton told him before the contest that he was going to have double-digit boards. He was true to his word and Pastner could not have been happier as this is one of the aspects of Barton’s game that he feels needs improvement.
Another bright spot for the Tigers was true freshman Adonis Thomas, who went 5-6 from downtown and ended the game with 17 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists. To this point in the season, Thomas has been seeing more and more playing time.
“Adonis hasn’t even scratched the surface of how good he can be,” said Pastner, who also was thrilled that his guys are playing “unselfish” basketball. He even credited a few of the Tigers 19 turnovers to maybe being a little too unselfish at times.
Memphis had 23 assists on 32 made field goals for the night. Pastner believes that it is crucial for the Tigers to be over the 50 percent mark on the assists-to-made field goals ratio because they are now 3-0 this season when they achieve this goal and were 13-3 when they did last season.
The rematch of last year’s close call was anything but a tight game and the Tigers looked as impressive as they have all year and appear to be headed in the right direction as a team. With Tuesday night’s 71-54 road victory over Miami, Memphis is 5-2.
Next up is the Dec. 11 game against Murray State at home, with a huge road test looming against Louisville.