VOL. 130 | NO. 24 | Thursday, February 5, 2015
‘The Team That Beat Memphis’ Has a Target on Its Back
By Don Wade
Even now if a University of Memphis fan goes to www.gotigersgo.com and the schedule page for the men’s basketball team, the first thing the fan sees is the 74-70 overtime loss to Division 2 Christian Brothers University.
CBU guard Trey Casey scores a layup against Alabama-Huntsville.
The only consolation for a Memphis fan is that it was an exhibition game. For CBU, of course, it was much more.
“The stars lined up for us,” long-time CBU coach Mike Nienaber says almost three months later.
At halftime of the Memphis game, CBU led 32-31. The Bucs had played the Tigers pretty close before, so at halftime Nienaber stressed the importance of staying close, of anticipating the run he knew he would come and surviving it.
“They did get a six or seven-point run,” Nienaber said. “But I told our guys if we keep it close the pressure is on them. There’s no pressure on us.”
Nienaber’s words proved prophetic. The Bucs won. But he’s the first to say that if the game had gone the other way, and gone that way by 25 to 30 points as it has some years, well, not that big of a deal.
“We can always put a positive spin on it,” he said. “It’s a great experience for our kids.”
So what about after winning the game? Well, like everything else in sports, this success came with its own challenges.
“We immediately came into the locker room after the game and said we don’t want this be the story of our whole season,” Nienaber said. “It’s a night you’ll remember the rest of your lives. I wasn’t downplaying that. But cutting down nets and winning championships is still more important.”
CBU, like Memphis, has had a mixed season. The Bucs carried an 11-8 record overall, 8-7 in the Gulf South Conference, into their Thursday Feb. 5 game at West Alabama. They lead the conference in scoring defense, allowing 66.7 points per game. But they are ninth in scoring offense with 70.8 points per game.
Senior guard Trey Casey is seventh in the league in scoring, 16.3 points per game, and second in 3-point shooting (50 of 109 for 45.9 percent). Senior guard Ryan Fleming is second in the conference in assists with 5.8 per game. And 6-9 senior forward Sidy Sall is seventh in the GSC is rebounding with 7.9 boards per game and 13th in scoring with 14.1 points per game.
When West Alabama and CBU met here in December, CBU lost 58-49 after shooting a dismal 33 percent from the floor and 24 percent from 3-point range. Those are numbers of doom for a program that relies so much on outside shooting that Nienaber’s running joke is that if he had seen Dallas Mavericks point guard Rajon Rondo playing in an AAU Tournament he would have just moved on to another court because for all his talent Rondo has a broken jump shot. And Nienaber does not recruit broken jump shots.
The GSC Tournament begins March 3 at the campus sites of the top four seeds. Right now, CBU sits sixth just behind fifth-place West Alabama. The conference semifinals and finals will be played the following weekend in Birmingham at the Pete Hanna Center on the campus of Samford University, where CBU has had much success. An automatic berth into the Division II NCAA Tournament will be at stake.
CBU also is marked this season, a bit of baggage from that exhibition win in November.
“We’re the team that beat Memphis,” Nienaber said. “It gives teams incentive every time we play. But we’re good enough to beat anybody in our league on a given night. Get to Birmingham, then all bets are off.”