Win Brings Course Correction for Tigers

DON WADE | Special to The Daily News

The Tigers returned from Stillwater, Okla., having been humiliated on national television by Oklahoma State, coach Josh Pastner speaking of a need for “course correction” and everyone hoping they would get another shot at the Cowboys in the championship game of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla.

For now, at least, consider the Tigers’ course for the 2013-2014 season corrected as they overcame a 10-point halftime deficit to beat No. 5 OSU 73-68 Sunday and win the Old Spice Championship. The Tigers’ first reward: moving up from 21 to 16 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll and from 19 to 15 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.

“We made a course correction. We’re not a finished product,” said Pastner, who beat a team ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time. “Today’s Dec. 2.”

But life sure looks a lot brighter for Tiger Nation now than it did on Nov. 19, when the Tigers suffered a 101-80 loss to OSU and All-American Marcus Smart scored 39 on them. Before the Tigers (5-1) could get their opportunity to play OSU – this time on a neutral court – they first had to beat Siena and LSU.

Shaq Goodwin’s impressive play and attitude led the Tigers to victory in last week’s Old Spice Classic. He was named the tournament’s MVP.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

“If we hadn’t played that game at Oklahoma State, we probably would have lost to LSU,” Pastner said.

Memphis trailed by eight in the second half to LSU, meaning they rallied in back-to-back games to win the tournament title.

“It gives us a boost of confidence,” said freshman Austin Nichols, who was named American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Week after averaging 13.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in the Old Spice Classic; he also was named to the all-tournament team.

Even more impressive was fellow post player Shaq Goodwin. The 6-9 sophomore picked up tournament MVP honors and was named the American’s player of the week after averaging 14 points and 6.7 boards. In many ways, he was the smiling drive train that pushed the Tigers forward.

“Last year, I was 30, 40 pounds heavier,” Goodwin said, in explaining his newfound mobility.

“Shaq, his energy is just so contagious right now,” Pastner added.

Nichols said the Tigers went into the tournament with the mind-set that nothing could be taken for granted, that “we could get beat by anybody.”

That, after all, was the knock. And Pastner, in his fifth season, was 0-13 against AP Top 25 teams until the victory over OSU. The Tigers’ next ranked opponent will be No. 15 Florida on Dec. 17 in New York in the Jimmy V Classic. Their next game is Saturday at noon at FedExForum against Northwestern State.

“It took on a life of its own,” Pastner said of his record against ranked opponents, albeit with a smile. “It became the eighth wonder of the world.”