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VOL. 128 | NO. 221 | Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tigers Find Different Rhythm This Season

DON WADE | Special to The Daily News

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A year ago in this exhibition matchup, the University of Memphis trailed at the half and beat Christian Brothers University by 11 points.

But Friday night, Nov. 8, at FedExForum, the Tigers defeated CBU 92-63 and nobody had to play more than 22 minutes as Memphis coach Josh Pastner mixed and matched his lineups throughout the game.

Memphis senior guard Michael Dixon Jr. had a strong debut for the Tigers, scoring a team-leading 18 points in Friday’s exhibition win against Christian Brothers University.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The players he knows best, senior guards Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford, played just 17 and 15 minutes, respectively. Senior guard Michael Dixon Jr., who’s new to the program after sitting out a year and transferring from Missouri, scored a team-leading 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the floor and had five assists with just one turnover. Senior guard Geron Johnson, in his second season with the Tigers, had 11 points, four assists, three steals and one turnover in 19 minutes.

Power forward David Pellom, a senior transfer from George Washington University, had arthroscopic knee surgery Thursday and is expected to miss five weeks. Everyone else played and the 11 other players expected to compete for meaningful time when the No. 13 Tigers open the season here Nov. 14 against Austin Peay, all got at least 15 minutes on the floor.

“I wanted to play everybody and get some good evaluation, some good looks at all the guys,” Pastner said. “The combinations, I’m totally a feel guy. ... I might be subbing five for five. Hockey line subs. It might be good for us at times. We’ll just see. Game by game, possession by possession.”

Pastner liked that the Tigers had 20 assists on 37 field goals. He didn’t like that Memphis was 15-for-26 from the free-throw line (57.7 percent) and that several players were at 50 percent or below: Johnson was 2-for-4, freshman Kuran Iverson was 3-for-6, and freshman Nick King was 2-for-6.

King, a 6-7 swingman, showed off his explosiveness. He scored 12 points and was 5-for-7 from the floor and led the team with 12 rebounds. But precisely because he has the ability to get to the line is why Pastner was a little frustrated.

“He’s got to make free throws,” Pastner said. “He’s going to get to the line a bunch because he plays with a high motor.”

Memphis also went just 3-for-15 from 3-point range after missing all but one 3-point shot in the scrimmage against No. 25 Baylor, which the Tigers lost by 27 points.

“We’re a better team making them,” Johnson said of the threes, “but we don’t have to have it” to be competitive.

Another highly touted freshman, big man Austin Nichols, scored nine points and had four rebounds. But freshman Dominic Woodson, who goes 6-10 and at least 310 pounds, made the, well, bigger impression with 14 points and a soft shooting touch – 7-for-7 from the floor. With Pellom out awhile, Woodson, Nichols and King have a “great opportunity in front of them,” Pastner said.

Defensively, the Tigers held CBU to 35.5 percent shooting, 26.3 percent from 3-point range. And their press was pretty good. Still, any Mike Nienaber-coached team is going to look for moments to get behind a defense and this one was no different.

“A lot of cutters,” Woodson said. “We don’t want to get caught sleeping on the back door.”

But it happened a few times. And then there was the time Dixon went under a screen and left his man wide open for a 3-pointer that went in. As the game went to timeout Pastner was coming onto the floor to yell at Dixon.

“I told him we don’t play defense like that here,” Pastner said. “We don’t allow 3-point shooters. Every time a three hits I feel it in my heart, my stomach. … Michael was too flat. A lot of guys were. We gotta be higher and up the floor in our half-court defense (to prevent threes).”

There was much speculation about how the game would be officiated because of the new hand-checking rules, but it didn’t seem to be much of a factor for the Memphis guards.

“This wasn’t put in for good defenders,” Johnson said. “This was put in for bad defenders. I’m glad. It exposes bad defenders. It puts me on a different pedestal because I’m moving my feet.”

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