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November 15, 2013
Tigers Run Away and Hide from Austin Peay on Opening Night
The Memphis Tigers basketball team came into their home court at the FedEx Forum on Thursday night with a win on their minds. Losing to Austin Peay in the season opener would have been unacceptable to not only themselves, but to Tiger Nation.
Everyone went home happy as Memphis ran all over Austin Peay from the start of the game and cruised to a 95-69 win in front of an announced crowd of 15,575.
Austin Nichols started with a dunk to score the first basket of his Tiger career and for Memphis on the night. The points came fast and furious for Memphis, as the Tigers nearly broke the century mark against a game group of Austin Peay Governors.
Michael Dixon and Chris Crawford were making it rain from the outside. Crawford started the game making 3-of-3 from long range. As for Dixon, he has not lost a step since he left Missouri.
Despite sitting for more than a year and not playing any competitive collegiate basketball, Dixon led the Tigers in scoring at halftime with 15 points and Crawford was behind him with 11 points. Though he went scoreless for the rest of the night, it was an impressive performance for the senior from Kansas City, MO.
Perhaps the most surprising player for the Tigers was Damien Wilson, who hustled on every play. He didn't stand out on the stats sheet, but he played solid defense, got after loose balls and rebounded well. He finished with nine points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal in 19 minutes.
At the end of the first period, Memphis led 51-29. As a team, the Tigers shot 57.1 percent from the field and 77.8 percent from the free throw line. Tigers' defense forced Austin Peay to take bad shots, resulting in the Govs going 12-of-30 from the field and 28.6 percent from long range.
Memphis had success sharing the ball as well with 14 assists in the first half on 20 made baskets. Turning the ball over, though, was still an issue with Memphis, as they ended the game with an unsightly 21 turnovers. Coach Pastner gave his thoughts about why the turnover total was so high.
"I thought we played well the first half. I thought the second half we got loosey goosey," head coach Josh Pastner observed. "I just thought we got unsound trying to make the triple play, the homerun, not keeping things simple and hitting singles.
"We've got to stay simple and sound and when we do that we are very, very effective. When we try to hit homeruns, make the fancy play or the 50-50 play, where as maybe it might get in a two possession game and cost you a game. But the win is great."
Memphis had six players to score in double digits on the night. Jackson led the way with 16 points, three rebounds and seven assists, with Dixon finishing with 15 points, four rebounds, two assists and four steals. Geron Johnson notched the first double-double of his Tiger career with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Nick King added 13 points, "Clutch" Crawford finished the game with 11 and Shaq Goodwin chipped in with 10.
The only other real negative for the Tigers, other than turnovers, was subpar free throw shooting in the second half of the game, 10-of-15 for just 66.7 percent from the line.
The Tigers ended the game a respectable 17-of-24 (70.8 percent) from the charity stripe but the plan is for them to do even better, noted senior leader Joe Jackson.
"Well, with free throw shooting, you gotta get better with that every game," Jackson said. "I think we can get up to 78 close to 80. Once we start making 80 percent of our free throws, we are going to be in good shape."
While Memphis cruised to victory over Austin Peay, the turnovers are something to look at in the near future if the Tigers want to win big games. Pastner made it clear that the Tigers have to get better at protecting the basketball.
"We've got to cut down on our turnovers," Pastner insisted. "When you're pressing like we press, you're going to have some turnovers but we can't have as many we had. We've got to continue to get the one more extra pass. I thought we were really good when we made the extra pass."
Overall, the Tigers played much better than they did versus Christian Brothers in their lone exhibition game. Everyone on the floor was getting involved on offense and communicating with one another on defense.
Memphis didn't rush a lot of their shots and made smart decisions with the basketball. Pastner sees the potential in this group and has already looked past Austin Peay and is prepared to play Oklahoma State on Tuesday night.
"I never played there in Stillwater," Pastner explained. "We're excited for that opportunity, that challenge. This game will help us for the long haul. We understand that. So, I love our team and we're going in there to win the game. We know how good Oklahoma State is. We know how good their players are. We know we're going to have to play our A-game."