You didn’t have to be sleep-deprived or doped up on caffeine to have trouble understanding just how Memphis managed to eek out a win on Monday night (slash Tuesday morning).
The Tigers’ 72-68 victory over Miami was as confusing as it was telling, as disappointing in some areas as it was promising in others, and was as meaningful for Memphis in the here-and-now as it will likely be irrelevant for the Hurricanes by season’s end.
“That was a relief,” Memphis freshman Chris Crawford said.
Memphis, which shot just 4-of-22 (18.2 percent) from 3-point range, was out-rebounded by 20, got almost nothing in the way of production from its veteran frontcourt and still found a way to not only stay in the game, but come from behind and win in the final minutes.
After trailing by as much as nine, Miami took its first lead of the second half at the 5:29 mark and pushed it to 63-59 with 4:00 left. But a series of Memphis defensive stops (rare), a Crawford 3-pointer (he was just 2-of-8) and a big-time defensive rebound (the Tigers couldn’t buy a board, so go figure) got Memphis back in it late before Charles Charmouche’s free throws with less than a minute left put the Tigers ahead for good.
It was a win that tested this young Memphis team’s resolve and maturity, but also highlighted, circled and drew arrows pointing directly at the Tigers’ toughness — specifically when it came to rebounding.
“We did a horrible job on the glass,” said Carmouche, who finished with 13 points. “I’m not going to lie — [Miami] out-toughed us. We were fighting out there, don’t get me wrong. But they were hungrier than us and wanted the ball more than us. … They showed us what toughness was really about.”
Granted, Crawford’s big 3-pointer to give the lead back to the Tigers was toughness. So was his defensive rebound with less than a minute left and Carmouche’s free throws.
But over the course of a season, playing tough in the final three minutes of a game isn’t always going to work. Veterans like Will Coleman (three points, two rebounds in 20 minutes), Angel Garcia (two points, two rebounds in 15 minutes) and Wesley Witherspoon (all but nonexistent in the second half) are going to have to produce.
“As you saw, we played many different lineups,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “We tried different ways. We’ve been from day one preparing for the Bahamas — all we’ve done is rebounding drills. I don’t know why we were just awful, awful today on the glass. … But we’re 2-0. That’s the bottom line. They can say what they want, but we still got the ‘W.'”
When Memphis turns the game into the track meet, the Tigers are going to be very difficult to beat. But part of making that happen is getting defensive rebounds.
Miami had 23 offensive rebounds to Memphis’ 19 defensive rebounds, which resulted in the Tigers spending a lot of time on the perimeter trying to crack the Hurricanes’ zone. For a freshman-laden team on the second game of the season, that was almost difficult to ask.
When Memphis did run, that stack of young talent reared its head. Joe Jackson, who finished with a team-high 17 points, flourished in the open court and scored most of his points early in the second half when the Tigers were forcing turnovers and managed to push the lead to nine points.
Will Barton, though still slowed by missing several weeks of practice, showed flashes of his brilliance when in the game while the Tigers were pushing the ball.
“We’ve got to get tougher,” Carmouche said. “We’ve got to finish plays and rebound so we can run.”
They call him ‘Clutch Crawford’
So maybe 2-for-8 isn’t necessarily clutch, but Crawford’s 3-pointer at 1:53 was.
“I was going through some stuff, so when it went in, it was the best feeling,” Crawford said. “Coach recruited me to shoot the ball. He told me to keep shooting, so I just kept doing what the coach told me to.”
And by that, we’re referring to the officials, who whistled each team for 29 fouls each (EACH!), resulting in 36 free-throw attempts for Miami and 39 from Memphis.
The Tigers capitalized, making 30 of them (76.9 percent). Witherspoon led the way by making 10-of-11, while Carmouche was 8-of-10.
God love Pastner and his cheesiness. This time, he wanted to give a shout-out to the fans. Do your thing, coach.
“I’ve got to give an unreal, off-the-charts, off-the-chain shout-out to the fan base. They were ridiculous tonight — with a capital R.”
– Josh Pastner
Brandon Harris covers Tiger basketball for Memphis Sport. You can follow him via Twitter @bharris901.
Written by Brandon Harris, Photo by Michael Cardwell.