Three consecutive Tiger dunks late in the first half — by Nick King, Markel Crawford, and Pookie Powell — will lead highlight shows of Saturday night's win over Bradley at FedExForum. But a pair of numbers — 15 and 8 — may be a better indicator of improvement for a team still searching for its strengths. Saturday's game was the first of the season in which the Tigers accumulated more assists (15) than turnovers (8). Better yet, an energetic Tiger defense forced 20 turnovers by the Braves, the most a Memphis opponent has committed this season. Led by 15 points and 12 rebounds from junior Shaq Goodwin, the Tigers evened their record at 3-3, with the next seven games on the schedule all to be played at Third and Beale.
"We established our presence early," said Goodwin after the win. "We focused on our game plan for this team: being tough and being together. We executed."
Tiger coach Josh Pastner opened the game with a three-guard lineup, replacing Nick King with Kedren Johnson for the tip-off. The rotation also received a boost with the debut of sophomore forward Kuran Iverson, who missed the Tigers' first five games, primarily due to concussion symptoms. Johnson played a season-high 26 minutes and scored as many points tonight (8) as he had in the first five games combined (7). As for Iverson, he played "energy guy," his impact larger than his numbers on the stat sheet (two points and a rebound in 11 minutes).
"I told Coach before the game that I'll bring energy," said Iverson. "I just wanted to get back in the rotation and help my teammates by making plays. Whatever position he puts me at, I'll play."
"Kuran came in with great energy from the start," said Johnson. "He had great energy in warm-ups. He'll keep working, getting his game together, and helping us out."
As for his much-talked about conditioning, Johnson said he's making strides. "It's just getting my rhythm back with the speed of the game," he said. "Being away for a year, it's been tough. Learning what these [teammates] like, and what bothers them. Gotta be tough with the ball, make sure passes."
Coming off the bench for the first time this season, King scored nine points in ten first-half minutes, including a windmill slam that is the season's top highlight to date. "I knew I was gonna dunk it as soon as I recognized Kuran would make the pass before falling out of bounds," he said. King wore a headband tonight, not so much for a fashion statement, but to protect a small scratch near his right eye (that stings when King sweats).
Sophomore guard Avery Woodson drained three three-pointers in the second half and finished the game with 11 points in 34 minutes. Ten Tigers contributed either one or two assists each, totaling 15 on the team's 21 made field goals. The Tigers shot 43 percent from the field and hit 25 of 40 free throws (63 percent).
Next up on the December home stand will be Oklahoma State on December 13th. The Tigers split a pair of games with the Cowboys early last season.