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Tigers set up need for a bounce back with loss to Murray State’s Racers

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

The Tigers went into a game against the Murray State Racers last Sunday (Dec. 11) afternoon thinking that it was going to be a tune up for their battle this Saturday with top-five ranked Louisville.

Wesley Witherspoon (left) and Chris Crawford try to steal the ball from Murray State guard Zay Jackson. (Photo by Warren Roseborough)

Hold up on that thought.

It seemed that no one for Memphis was having their best day. During introductions, the now generally despised John Calipari was announced as the head coach of the Tigers. It was a slip easily corrected, but proved to be foreshadowing of events to come.

Murray State jumped out in front early, scoring the first six points of the game and accumulating an 11-2 lead in just the first two minutes. Their lead grew as large as 13 points at the 7:30 mark in the first half, but the Tigers clawed their way back. Memphis closed the gap to five points, with Murray leading 34-29 at the break.

After halftime, Memphis came out hot and tied the game within the first 30 seconds. It seemed as if the tides might turn, but the Racers stuck to their game plan and continued to hit clutch shots.  Murray State let the Tigers run the court in their usual fast paced style, but that actually helped the Racers as they played the passing lanes excellently. The Tigers committed 15 turnovers, many leading to easy transition baskets for Murray State.

With five minutes left in the game, Memphis trailed by nine points and the sense of urgency could be felt throughout the FedExForum. Every time the Tigers would hit a big shot, Murray State seemed to have an answer. On several occasions, the Racers would hold the ball for the entire shot clock and convert with mere seconds remaining.

At the two-minute mark, the Racers led by 11, but the Tigers came roaring back. A desperation full-court press forced a few turnovers and a 10-second infraction, allowing Memphis to score 8 straight points. Down by three with six seconds left, the Tigers pushed the ball up court and Chris Crawford got a decent look from beyond the arc, but his shot went in and out. After a foul on the rebound, the Racers escaped with a 76-72 win.

Memphis Head Coach Josh Pastner, reflecting after the game, said there were three things the Tigers had to do to win the game. They couldn’t allow the Racers to shoot their season average 43 percent from three-point land, they couldn’t let them get to the free throw line their average 20 times a game, and they couldn’t let Murray’s role players beat them. The Racers shot 45 percent from three, attempted 29 free throws, and although their star, Poole, had a great game, many of their other players hit crucial shots down the stretch.

The Tigers limped out of the game against Murray State with a 5-3 record. And while many will be down on Memphis after the loss, note that the Racers are 10-0 and are now ranked No. 24 in the nation.

Despite much hype before the season, the Tigers have proven to be mediocre thus far in the year. Memphis started the season in the top ten and has now fallen out of the top twenty-five.

Key factors? Start with the lack of senior leadership. Sophomore Will Barton has emerged as the team leader, but he needs help to turn this season around. Senior Wesley Witherspoon has had one good game this year, and that was against a less than stellar opponent.

Also, senior Charles Carmouche has been suspended during the last four games for what Pastner calls strictly internal matters. That vague description really makes the mind wonder.

On the decline since the Maui tournament, the Tigers’ underperforming players really need to get it together. Or this could be a long season of disappointment.

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