There is good loose and there is bad loose. In basketball terms, bad loose is sloppy, inattentive, and error-prone.
Good loose — in basketball terms — was on display tonight at FedExForum in the form of a Tiger team that has played all too tightly over the first month of the season. Using a limited rotation of players, Memphis took an 8-0 lead after tipoff and never allowed North Carolina Central to get closer. For the second time this season, the U of M dished out more assists (19) than turnovers committed (14), held the Eagles to 30-percent from the field (one for 15 from three-point range), and scored 21 points on the fast break. The result was the demolition of a team that won 28 games last season and represented the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in the NCAA tournament. (The Eagles lost their opener this season to North Carolina by merely 16 points.)
"Coming off a bad loss like [Oklahoma State] . . . we came out there and gave another level of effort," said sophomore forward Austin Nichols who hit six of nine shots from the field, scored 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 21 minutes. "When we get a big lead early like that, it definitely loosens everyone up. It was a fun game. We tried to run early, get some easy buckets. And that loosened up our entire offense."
Tiger coach Josh Pastner had a shortened bench, with Markel Crawford sidelined by a knee injury and Calvin Godfrey not with the team due to illness. (Godfrey was benched during the Oklahoma State game after shouting at Pastner upon being removed from the game.) Pastner did not send in a substitution until after the first media timeout, more than four minutes into the game. Sophomore Pookie Powell started in place of Crawford and delivered five assists — the most by any Tiger this season — in 18 minutes of playing time.
"It was Coach's decision, to shorten the rotation," said Powell. "My job is to be ready, be prepared, and go out there and play. Energy was big. We knew what we had to do — offensively and defensively — to get the win."
Trahson Burrell made his second start of the season and led the Tigers with 15 points (on 6 of 10 shooting). Shaq Goodwin picked up two early fouls but managed to score 11 points and pull down eight rebounds in 21 minutes. Nick King came off the bench and led the Tigers with nine rebounds. Kuran Iverson added eight points in 13 minutes and Kedren Johnson hit a pair of three-pointers late in the first half to put the game out of reach.
The win improves Memphis to 4-4 and drops the Eagles to 6-5.
The loose-but-energetic Tigers played in front of their smallest home crowd in years, considerably fewer actual fans than the announced attendance of 13,126. That crowd reached a crescendo, though, late in the second half when walk-on Jake McDowell — the son of Tiger great Hank McDowell — threw down a ferocious breakaway dunk. McDowell followed a minute later by hitting a three-pointer from the left corner (right in front of the Tiger bench), a shot that defied some physics by glancing off the backboard before dropping through the net. Nichols called McDowell the game's MVP.
The Tigers are now 2-2 on a nine-game homestand and have alternated losses (odd games) and wins (even games) through eight contests. They return to FedExForum Wednesday night to face USC Upstate.