In a more tightly contested game than most expected, the No. 16/17-ranked University of Memphis Tigers (2-0) survived a scare at home from the Samford Bulldogs (1-3) Saturday night, 65-54.
Though the Tigers held a nine-point lead at the break, it was the Bulldogs who used the intermission as a reset - and it would prove helpful as they fought back and kept the Tigers on the brink of an upset all night with their zone defense and deft three point shooting.
"I was disappointed in our lack of everything," said Josh Pastner, head coach of the Tigers. "I thought we played slow. We were slow in all areas, offensively and defensively. Nobody (from Memphis) deserves game balls in this one."
Memphis looked disinterested from the tip. The Tigers weren't getting back in transition, weren't scrapping for rebounds or loose balls, and constantly left Samford shooters wide open around the perimeter, resulting in 52.9 percent field goal shooting for the Bulldogs in the first half alone.
"Our strength is getting up and down the floor," junior forward Tarik Black said. "But things happen like this in the flow of the game. Not too many rebounds coming off if they're shooting 52.9 percent."
One bright spot for the Tigers was sophomore guard and forward Adonis Thomas. Thomas shot 50.0 percent from the field, 4-for-4 from the free throw line and had 16 points - while playing a game-high 39 minutes.
"I was just trying to be aggressive on the perimeter," Thomas said. "We're an uptempo team, and it seemed as though we played down to their zone which slowed us down tonight. They were making stops and doing what their coach told them to do. They executed their game plan."
What Thomas left unsaid was the fact that the Memphis Tigers did not execute their game plan.
The Bulldogs closed their deficit to 54-51, and missed a three-pointer to tie, but Tigers' Antonio Barton made huge threes to keep the Tigers from suffering yet another early upset at home to a lesser opponent, following a home loss to Murray State last season. Barton finished the game with 14 points, including 4-of-7 from three-point range, with two steals.
"Just getting in the gym working on my shot (helped me convert threes)," Barton said. "I'm a shooter, but I feel as though I can be a better shooter. Some of the shots I missed, I know I can make, it's just a matter of getting in there and working."
Overall, only three Tigers finished in double figures. Black and Thomas were joined by sophomore guard Joe Jackson, who chipped in with 13 points, four assists and no turnovers, while going 7-of-8 from the line. However, Pastner insists this Tigers team can do better.
"I don't want make excuses, we've got to mature as a team," Pastner said. "We're not a methodical team. Maybe last year or the year before I can say we may have overlooked an opponent, but not this year. They (Samford) dictated pace. We have to dictate pace - we work on it all week during practice, I don't know what it was tonight."
The Tigers return to action Thursday evening to take on VCU in the next round of a tournament dubbed "The Battle 4 Atlantis" in the Bahamas. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. (CDT).
Should Memphis win, they would then challenge the winner of the Duke-Minnesota contest in the semifinals on Friday, November 23. The championship is set for Saturday, and should the Tigers make it that far in the winners' bracket, they would potentially face either Louisville, Missouri or Stanford.