The Memphis Tigers notched another victory, this time in much more convincing fashion, overcoming a slow start to pull away and defeat Oral Roberts, 72-57, in front of 16,410 at the FedEx Forum.
"It was a good win for our team today," said Memphis head coach Josh Pastner. "Obviously, we have great respect for coach (Shawn) Sutton and Oral Roberts. They're a terrific program. He's the winningest coach in the history of Oral Roberts, and they've got good players.
"I thought it was a good team win. We did some good things defensively. Warren Niles is a big-time player. Geron Johnson, Chris Crawford and Joe Jackson guarded him. Those three guys did an excellent job. They're a good rebounding team so to have a plus five is good. We played really well."
Speaking of Warren Niles, Memphis held him to a stunning two points on abysmal 1-of-11 shooting. Niles came into the contest as the ninth-leading scorer in the nation. Oral Roberts also failed to convert on a three-point attempt (0-7) all night and shot a mere 37.1 percent from the floor on the evening.
Memphis trailed by two (10-13) with 11:42 remaining in the first half when freshman Damien Wilson scored two of his career-high nine points at the free throw line. ORU promptly turned the ball over and Memphis converted with a Shaq Goodwin layup, off the Antonio Barton assist to take the lead for good, 14-13.
The Tigers led by as much as 13 in the first half before taking a 12-point advantage (38-26) into the locker room. The second half lead swelled as large as 19 (63-44) on a Geron Johnson dunk with 7:54 to go in the game.
Oral Roberts' head man Scott Sutton considered the defensive effort by Memphis team made all the difference on the night.
"I give all the credit to Memphis," Sutton began. "Where Warren (Niles) has struggled throughout his career is against big strong long athletes, and obviously Memphis had a whole team of them it seemed like. . .
"I don't think he got a clean look at the basket until the second half, and then he finally hit one late in the game, but Brandon (Conley) was the same way. At one time I think those guys were a combined 3-for-20. They end up 6-for-24, and without Roundtree you're not going to beat a good opponent."
Pastner agreed that his team really stepped up on the defensive end, singling the effort as one of the better ones his team has ever had at Memphis.
"It's sure darn near close to it if not the best defensive effort. To hold a team to under 40 percent and zero percent from three is not easy to do. Since we've been back, that was a point of emphasis is to get back to the basics defensively."
Geron Johnson started his first game at Memphis and finished with eight points, two rebounds and two steals. But his defensive pressure on Warren Niles really set the tone for what the Tigers wanted to do on the night. After the game, Pastner brushed off the importance of Johnson's start, rather focusing on what Geron's effort on 'D'.
"I think starting is overrated," Pastner said bluntly. "We have a multitude of guys that could start. I thought Chris (Crawford) coming off the bench would take some pressure off of him to get his mojo back.
"Geron was really good defensively. He's a big-time defender. If someone looks at the box score and says he might not have had a good game because he was 2-of-5. Anyone that watched the game would say he was a stud defensively. Warren Niles is a pro prospect, so for Geron to do that is some pretty good defense."
Junior point guard Joe Jackson continued his recent string of good performances (save the eight turnovers against Louisville) with 13 points, five assists and one steal versus zero turnovers. Barton awakened from his recent scoring slumber with a team-high 17 points while tying Jackson for the team lead with five assists. And senior D.J. Stephens set new career-highs with 14 rebounds and five blocks in the win.
Barton led the Tigers in scoring for the first time this season, while Stephens led the team in rebounds and blocks for the fifth time in each category. Jackson's five assists mark the seventh time he has led the team in helpers this season.
Memphis tied a season-high with their nine blocked shots.
Coach Sutton was extremely impressed by Memphis and sees good things in their future.
"I think they're deeper than Arizona, I don't think they're as good right now, but they're going to continue to get better and better," Sutton observed. "Josh (Pastner) does a good job with that team, but as far as having a deep athletic team, we haven't faced very many teams that can throw out that many guys at you. They switched on Warren [Niles] a few times. They put a fresh guy on him. They just did a good job all night."