Memphis cruises past awful Rutgers team
The No. 22 ranked Memphis Tigers (17-5, 7-3 AAC) could have easily given up on hopes of an successful second half of the season after they were embarrassed in Dallas, TX with an 87-72 loss to the SMU Mustangs. Well, the entire team found a way to mentally prepare for another game right after a loss and came out swinging against the Scarlett Knights of Rutgers University. The Tigers needed this game to mentally prepare for their showdown against the Gonzaga Bulldogs on Saturday night.
Memphis had no problem taking care of business in front of the 14,967 Tiger Nation fanatics. They simply made the Scarlett Knights (9-14, 3-7 AAC) look bad on both end of the basketball. Also, the shots for the Tigers were falling from every angle of the court. Memphis knocked down their opponent at the FedEx Forum with an 101-69 lopsided victory over coach Eddie Jordan’s Rutgers.
“We played well. We shared the ball,” Pastner said after their win over the Scarlett Knights. “Rutgers is a very good basketball team. Their team is really good. You look at the roster, I mean they got some high-level guys. They got six or seven top 100 players out of high school. So, we were fortunate the way we played and made some shots. When we are making shots like that, things kind of fall into place.”
Early in the first half, freshman forward Austin Nichols got the offense going scoring his team’s first four points. From there, Memphis would outscore the Scarlett Knights 27-5 to take an 31-5 lead at the 9:51 mark. One of the main reasons for the Tigers’ huge lead was their shooting percentage from the field. In the first half, the Tigers shot 66.7 percent (22-of-33) from the field.
The long ball was also falling for the Tigers compared to the 6-of-24 (25 percent) performance in Saturday’s loss to the Mustangs. They made 8-of-11 (72.7 percent) from long range. With the excellent shooting from the field, Memphis went into halftime with an 56-21 advantage on the scoreboard.
Nichols was a huge part of the Tigers’ offense in the first half scoring 16 points while shooting 100 percent (7-of-7) from the field. Joe Jackson had a quiet first half with 10 points. Another player who stood out for Memphis was senior guard Chris Crawford, who went 3-of-5 (60 percent) from long range in the first half.as he scored nine points and grabbed five rebounds.
Nichols hasn’t scored in double figures since the Tigers played Division II school Le Moyne Owen-College on Jan. 18. In that game, he had 12 points. Nichols mentions that some of the offensive plays were designed for him.
“Some of them (plays) were. I think I was just in the right spots at the right time,” said Nichols. “There was a few passes that Chris and Joe pass me and it seemed like it went through the defender’s hand and I just caught it and laid it right up. Another thing, my teammates have confidence in me. As I said earlier, that’s positive.”
The Scarlett Knights had no answer for the Tigers’ scoring attack. They couldn’t seem to find a rhythm on offense. As a team, they shot 25 percent (6-of-24) from the field and 9.1 percent (1-of-11) from deep. Their best stat came from the line as they shot 66.7 percent (8-of-12). Kadeem Jack led the team in scoring at the end of the first with eight points.
In the second half, Memphis continued to make the Scarlett Knights uncomfortable on offense. Jack was the only positive scoring machine for the Rutgers as he finished the game with 12 points. Despite the poor shooting in the first half, the Knights had a better second half shooting the basketball. As a team, the Rutgers shot 53.1 percent (17-of-32) from the field and 50 percent (4-of-8) from deep.
Even though the Rutgers shooting percentage was better in the second half, it still wasn’t enough to beat the steaking Tigers. Nichols would only score two points in the second half, but managed to finish as the game’s leading scorer with 18 points. Jackson added 16 points. Michael Dixon Jr. pitched in 15 points as he shot 57.1 percent (4-of-7) from the field. Sophomore forward Shaq Goodwin broke out of his scoring slump after two games with 13 points and six rebounds. Crawford and Geron Johnson had 12 points apiece.
Crawford’s stat line stood out as he nailed a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
The Tigers kept shooting the long ball at a proficient rate in the second half. Crawford and Dixon acounted for seven three’s in the game. As a team, the Tigers shot 63.2 percent (12-of-19) from long range. Crawford seems to get the hot hand during the second half of the season. In other words, he finds his niche when March Madness approaches.
“It’s all about having confidence. My teammates trust me and I just knock the shots down,” said Crawford. “It’s all about just having great chemistry out there with everybody looking for each other. The open man is the go-to-man and that’s what we did tonight.”
With the Scarlett Knights out of the way for a short moment, Memphis now turns their attention to their showdown against the No. 24 Gonzaga Bulldogs (20-3, 10-1 WCC). Pastner gives insight about College Gameday crew and Tiger Nation fans.
“The big thing is Gameday Saturday. I think that there are only seven or eight of those for all college basketball year,” said Pastner. “So we are one of them and that is just tremendous. We need to pack that place out. I will put our fanbase against anyone in the country. Let’s pack that place out.”
The game between Memphis and Gonzaga is slated for Saturday at 8 p.m. CST in Memphis, TN at the FedEx Forum. The game will be televised on ESPN and ESPN3.