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VOL. 132 | NO. 225 | Monday, November 13, 2017

Tigers Easily Tamed by No. 25 Alabama in Opener

By Don Wade

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They weren’t very good from the free-throw line (22 of 36 for 61.1 percent) and they were abysmal from 3-point range (2 of 17 for 11.8 percent). None of the players, with the exception of guard Kareem Brewton (13 points), could consistently create his own shot and they collectively finished with seven assists and 17 turnovers.

All of that played into the 82-70 loss the University of Memphis absorbed in its season-opener to No. 25 Alabama in the Veterans Classic in Annapolis, Maryland.

Had it been a ranked team at full strength that might have been one thing. But injuries and a suspension took away three of the Crimson Tide’s top scorers. Early foul trouble sent more players to the bench. So, it was a compromised version of coach Avery Johnson’s team that took over in the second half. In fact, Johnson was playing walk-on Lawson Schaffer fairly early in the first half.

Tigers coach Tubby Smith, in his postgame press conference, said the Tigers failed to deliver the ball to the open man even when they penetrated and drew defensive help.

Memphis forward Kyvon Davenport, left, shoots over teammate Victor Enoh (12) and Alabama guard Herb Jones (10) during the first half at the Veterans Classic tournament in Annapolis, Md., Friday, Nov. 10. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

“People were open and we didn’t find them open,” Smith said.

Forward Kyvon Davenport, one of the many junior college transfers on the roster, led Memphis with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Seniors Jeremiah Martin and Jimario Rivers and freshman guard Jamal Johnson all finished with 10 points apiece.

Alabama blocked seven Memphis shots, a tell-tale sign that many of the Tigers were struggling to adjust to the new level of competition.

After a very competitive first half, the Tigers ultimately looked like a team deserving of the ninth-place finish in the American Athletic Conference predicted in the preseason by the league’s coaches.

But at least while it’s early we can note that it is early. So, it’s early.

The Tigers start a three-game homestand on Tuesday, Nov. 14, vs. Little Rock. Tip-off is 7 p.m. at FedExForum. Little Rock had an even tougher start, opening its season at home and losing 81-79 to Division 2 Ouachita Baptist.

Iron Bowl Looms as SEC Super Bowl

Auburn’s 40-17 demolition of previously No. 1 and undefeated Georgia means the Tigers still have a path to the SEC title game. All they have to do is beat soon-to-be No. 1 and still undefeated Alabama.

And after Auburn’s performance vs. the Dawgs and Bama's scare in Starkville on Saturday – the Crimson Tide rallied for a 31-24 victory – it could be an epic Iron Bowl on Nov. 25 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

“We have a great opportunity right now; our goal was to win the SEC Championship,” said Auburn coach Gus Malzahn after his team improved to 8-2 and 6-1 in the conference. “Here we are, Nov. 11, and we’re right in the middle of it. And all the dreams we have are still alive.”

Alabama needed quarterback Jalen Hurts to be on time and on target in the game’s last minute as the Crimson Tide drove downfield for the winning score. Hurts hit on two key passes despite Mississippi State blitzing.

“We did a good job of staying together, being one and staying cool,” Hurts said.

“Sometimes you need hard,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “If we’re going to beat really good teams, if we’re going to compete, we’ve got to learn how to compete in close games where every play counts.”

Pitchers still have to execute pitches, Motte says

Relief pitcher Jason Motte, who worked for the Atlanta Braves this past season and once led the National League with 42 saves for the St. Louis Cardinals, agrees with his pitching peers: the baseball was different this year.

“Whether it was wound a fraction tighter … I have no idea,” Motte said. “But I know what a baseball feels like and when a guy gets one good and when I know I probably need to go back up third base.”

Meaning, previously, he could tell if he has just allowed a home run or a ball that was either going to be caught in the gap or get down and bounce to the wall and possibly result in a throw coming to third base. But not last season.

There were more home runs hit during the 2017 regular season (6,104) than at any point in the game’s history. The next-highest total (5,693) came back in 2000 in the heart of the steroids era. But strikeouts also set a record with 40,105, breaking the 2016 mark of 38,982.

Motte says hitters (Ok, sluggers) come to the plate with one goal: hitting the ball out. And if they strike out trying, oh well. But even with a ball that might be constructed for longer flight, Motte says that doesn’t give pitchers an all-purpose excuse.

“If a pitch is well-executed, for the most part, it’s not going to get hit that hard,” he said.

Motte, by the way, is also holding the sixth annual fundraiser for his Jason Motte Foundation “Let’s Strike Out Cancer” campaign on Saturday, Nov. 18, at The Columns at One Commerce Square. To register a cornhole team or buy spectator tickets go to https://jasonmottefoundation.org/cornhole/.

Asked about the status of his own cornhole game, Motte said: “It’s decent. I wouldn’t say great, I wouldn’t say terrible. I’ll talk a little trash and take a little trash-talking.”

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