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December 28, 2013

Instant Analysis: Jackson State

The Memphis Tigers have had trouble with smaller programs this season, such as Arkansas-Little Rock and Southeast Missouri State. Head coach Josh Pastner's Tigers beat both teams, but just never could completely pull away.

Saturday afternoon in FedExForum, Memphis hosted another smaller program in the Jackson State Tigers. The SWAC has never been known for great basketball teams, as they rarely make noise in the NCAA Tournament or against top-tier programs in the regular season, but Jackson State never stopped battling, making the Tigers fight hard till the final buzzer for a 75-61 win.

A win is a win, and Pastner will take an ugly win over a loss any day of the year. However, the effort left a lot to be desired as Memphis now turns its focus towards the beginning of the American Athletic Conference slate.

The most glaring issue Saturday afternoon for Pastner's squad was its atrocious three-point shooting.

Surprisingly enough, the Tigers shot 44.8 percent from the field, but it was in large part due to their success inside the three-point line where they finished 22-37 (59.4 percent). Outside that line, Memphis couldn't hit anything, finishing the contest 4-21 (19.0 percent).

The brunt of those shots came from senior guards Chris Crawford, Michael Dixon Jr., Joe Jackson and Geron Johnson, who combined to make a mere 4-20 (20.0 percent) from downtown. Crawford and Jackson weren't the problems though, combining to go 4-10 (40.0 percent). The problems were Dixon and Johnson, who finished 0-10.

Dixon missed all six of his attempts from long range, while Johnson bricked on his four shots. Dixon's outing seems to just be an off game that he will need to get over quickly, as he's shooting 38.2 percent on the year. Johnson, on the other hand, continued his shooting struggles. Over the last three games, he's gone 0-8 from long range and to add on to a forgettable day for him, Johnson also missed his three attempts inside the arc to make him 0-7 on the day.

Johnson is shooting just 20 percent from three-point range (down 15 points from last year) and 39 percent from the field (down five points). He's still doing other things like rebounding and defending well, but Memphis needs him to break out of this slump in conference matchups.

All the missed three pointers gave Jackson State a lot of opportunities to grab long rebounds and let their athletes get out and run, but the main reason why Memphis couldn't pull away from them was because of turning the ball over.

The Tigers gave the ball up a total of 19 times, with 14 coming in the first half. It doesn't matter what the caliber of team you are playing, if you can't take care of the ball the opponent is going to be in the game. The bright side, if there is one, about all the turnovers was that Memphis allowed Jackson State to score only eight points off their mishaps.

Still, it's an issue that must be addressed before the Tigers open AAC play at South Florida on December 31. Poor outside shooting and mental lapses kept Jackson State in the game. If Memphis wants to have a serious chance at the AAC title, it has to fix these issues.

The most positive takeaway was the Tigers' bench. It outscored Jackson State's bench 35-8 and played better than much of the Memphis starting five. Dixon led the team with 14 off the pine, while senior big-man David Pellom has another solid outing with 12 points and six rebounds. Pellom has provided big minutes in relief since coming back from injuring his knee.

It wasn't pretty, but the Tigers are sitting at 9-2 heading into the AAC schedule next Tuesday. These problems can be easily fixed if Memphis just makes smarter shot selections and play more under control. The Tigers have all the talent in the world, but it won't be realized if they don't play sound, fundamental basketball against much better competition in the AAC.

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