The Tigers' eight-day, four-game, warm-up homestand is complete. A rotation has been established (with emerging impact players), centered around sophomore forward Dedric Lawson
. Players are healthy (with Providence looming Friday at the Emerald Coast Classic). And Dedric, it appears, is merely one half of a brother act first-year coach Tubby Smith
will lean on all winter.
Memphis essentially put the Cowboys away in six minutes of basketball Tuesday night, exploding to a 17-1 lead. Reserve guard Craig Randall
— among those emerging players of impact — scored 11 points in the game's first 14 minutes and finished with 18 (in just 21 minutes), three shy of the career high he set merely three days ago.
This was still a Lawson show. Dedric became the first Tiger in 21 years to start a season with four consecutive double-doubles (20 points and 10 rebounds). His older brother, redshirt-freshman K.J. Lawson
, notched his third straight double-double (13 points and 10 rebounds) and dished out seven assists with but one turnover. Each player re-entered the game late, needing a single rebound for the statistical mark. The gesture was acknowledged by Dedric: "Thanks to Coach Smith. I appreciate it. He understands goals individuals are trying to reach."
It's the larger team goals that the U of M hopes to soon have in clearer focus. Based on numbers alone, the Tigers have separated themselves from Memphis teams of recent vintage. Not since 2010 has a Tiger team begun a season 4-0. Not since 2014 has a Tiger team scored 100 points in a game. And only once before has a Tiger team handed out as many assists as it did against the Cowboys (35).
"We started out with the right kind of energy, the right kind of focus," said Smith following the game. "They played unselfishly. We're pleased in some areas; others we have to get better."
Point guard Jeremiah Martin
handed out seven assists with only one turnover, giving him totals of 29 and 7, respectively, through four games. Christian Kessee
came off the bench and made his first real impact of the season with six assists and only one turnover himself. Freshman Keon Clergeot
scored his first points of the season (11) in 16 productive minutes off the bench. If nothing else, these four opening games have infused a team with much-needed confidence as the schedule strengthens after Thanksgiving.
"Taking care of the basketball is critical," emphasized Smith. "The competition is going to be a lot stiffer now. Show me a team that's having a tough time winning, and I'll show you a team turning the ball over. We have some good ball-handling guards. When you can keep the ball in a guy like Jeremiah's hands . . . he was impressive."
Entering the holiday weekend, Smith expressed a few reasons to be grateful, quoting one of his father's favorite expressions: "Every day is a great day above ground." Two games over the holiday weekend (Providence followed by Virginia or Iowa) will test his team in ways it hasn't been challenged over the season's first eight days. Such is the natural progression for a developing team.
"Preparation is the same," said Smith, "but we'll make adjustments. We'll see better athletes with Providence. I think we're ready."