VOL. 132 | NO. 16 | Monday, January 23, 2017
Tigers Model Their Resolve in 70-65 Victory Over UCF
By Don Wade
The game started with the Tigers’ opponent hitting two contested 3-pointers, the Tigers taking and missing a couple of ill-advised jump shots, and UCF running out on two fastbreaks.
Just like that, only two minutes and two seconds into the proceedings, the University of Memphis was losing 10-0. It happened so fast the crowd at FedExForum didn’t even have time for much of a reaction.
By halftime, despite coach Tubby Smith having to sit down his best player, Dedric Lawson, with two fouls at the 7:06 mark and Memphis trailing by seven points, the Tigers had rallied for a 33-30 lead. Ultimately, they would hang on for a 70-65 victory Sunday despite being clobbered on the boards by the second-best rebounding team in the country and the presence of 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall.
“I didn’t jump,” said 6-foot-8 Tigers forward Jimario Rivers, when asked about the jump ball to start the game. “I can’t see no point in jumping.”
By game’s end, Fall had scored 15 points and grabbed 13 rebounds and the Knights out-rebounded Memphis 41-28. But the Tigers also had converted 16 UCF turnovers into 22 points and had an uncharacteristically accurate day at the free throw line: 18 of 23 for 78.3 percent.
But most of all, the Tigers (15-5, 5-2 in the American Athletic Conference) had flexed their toughness, their moxie and their ability to have a short memory when it served them best.
“I don’t even remember we was down 10-0,” said forward K.J. Lawson, who led Memphis 16 points and eight rebounds and also chipped in four assists.
“We never gave up, stayed together,” said Rivers, who finished with 12 points blocked two shots.
Guard Markel Crawford played all 40 minutes, scoring 12 points with five rebounds, and two steals. Asked about the team’s resiliency, he answered with what sounded almost like a mantra:
“Keep fighting,” he said. “Make stops, get a score, makes stops, get a score.”
And so it went down the stretch. UCF (14-5, 5-2 in the AAC) rallied from a 56-49 deficit to tie the score at 59-59 on a pair of free throws by A.J. Davis with 4:03 to play. Memphis went up 68-62 with 1:16 to play after K.J. Lawson hit two free throws, but guard Tank Efianayi made a triple with 1:04 left in the game to cut the gap to 68-65.
UCF had possession with 18 seconds remaining when coach Johnny Dawkins called timeout. Smith, after seeing the alignment, called a timeout of his own. When play resumed, the Tigers denied the Knights a clean look from deep or a quick route to the basket. Eleven seconds ran off the clock before guard B.J. Taylor (16 points) forced a two-point attempt running toward the basket and missed.
K.J. Lawson got the rebound, was fouled, and hit two more free throws to complete the scoring.
“I was impressed with our kids today,” Smith said. “A lot of guts. You have to overachieve if you’re smaller and don’t have the depth.”
- Rivers and Dedric Lawson each took a hard fall in the game and left the court for a short time. Both returned and showed no ill effects. But the crowd went silent and Smith said, “Those are scary moments for us.”
- Reserve guard Craig Randall played 11 of his 16 minutes in the first half and scored all seven of his points in the first half, helping fill the void while Dedric Lawson was on the bench. “That was huge,” Smith said.
- Point guard Jeremiah Martin played 38 minutes, scored nine points on 3-of-6 shooting from the floor with a 2-for-2 day at the free-throw line, and handed out five assists and made two steals with just two turnovers.
- Guards Christian Kessee and Keon Clergeot made cameo appearances in the first half. Kessee played three minutes and committed one foul. Clergeot played two minutes and had one assist. Neither attempted a shot.
- Next Up: A 5 p.m. game on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at Temple. It will be broadcast by the CBS Sports Network. The Tigers return to FedExForum on Saturday, Jan. 28, for a 2:30 p.m. game vs. East Carolina.