Tigers prove their legitimacy

Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 10.15.44 AMDespite losing to Florida last night 77-75 at Madison Square Garden as part of the Jimmy V. Classic, the Memphis Tigers made their presence known in the world of college basketball. This season has seen some ups and downs, but after going down to the wire with another very solid basketball team, there is no question that the Tigers ranking and attention are merited.

After a rough start to the game by the Tigers where most players looked tight, save for David Pellom, Josh Pastner finally decided to see what his four-guard lineup could do. And as many predicted at the beginning of the season, the four seniors played extremely well together. They got the Tigers right back in the game after trailing by double digits and pulled to within three by halftime.

The second half, as anyone who watched the game could attest to, looked like a matchup you might see in the Sweet 16 or Elite 8. It was high quality basketball. It was two heavyweight teams trading blows trying to knock the other one out. And in a fitting fashion the game came down to the final play. After Scotty Willbekin missed the front end of a 1-1, Memphis got the rebound and called timeout to draw up one final play. Trailing by two Joe Jackson took the ball hard to the rim and it just didn’t fall for the Tigers.

What’s crazy is that the game was almost perfectly matched. Looking at the FG stats for both teams, there was literally one more make for the Gators. They shot 28-54 while the Tigers shot 27-57. The game came down to one shot.

While I hate to use the phrase “moral victory,” I will begrudgingly do so here. In the past, especially before the win over OSU two weeks ago, national TV games against ranked opponents were usually disasters for Memphis. They rarely came down to the last couple of minutes let alone the last possession, but last night was different. Last night was a game that Tiger fans could go to sleep after without feeling embarrassed, without feeling overly upset. Sure they wish that it would have ended differently, but it ended the way it did and it really should be a growing experience for the team

It also was a game that national media and fans seemed to really enjoy watching. Usually when Memphis plays in the spotlight it opens up the door for a bunch of talking heads and non-Memphis fans to come out and say that the team is soft or poorly coached or can’t win when it matters. Last night all of those folks couldn’t stop talking about how much fun the game was to watch and how much it felt like a game in late-March.

It was a fun game to watch. And it did feel like a tournament game. The nice thing for Memphis fans and fans in general alike is that these two teams should have a lot more national exposure as the season progresses and should both be playing at a high level come March Madness.

It should be a fun season for the Tigers, probably the most fun since 2007-08. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Warner Russell  covers Tiger Basektball for MemphiSport. Read his non-sports stuff here. Follow his thoughts on sports @SportsWGR

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