In a game between Memphis and New Orleans, it's fitting that a man named Rivers made the biggest impact. The Tigers' senior forward — Jimario Rivers
— scored a career-high 18 points and led Memphis with seven rebounds in 38 minutes of action Tuesday night at FedExForum. Rivers was the difference in what can best be described as an uneven game between teams still identifying weak spots. Memphis improved to 2-1 on the season while the Privateers fell to 0-3.
"[Our team chemistry] is in the building process," said Rivers after the game. "We're trying to build a brotherhood." Among the other nine Tigers to take the floor against New Orleans, precisely one — Jeremiah Martin
— has played more than three games in a Memphis uniform. Martin and Rivers combined to score 33 of the Tigers' points, with junior transfer Kyvon Davenport
the only other Tiger in double figures (10).
The Tigers jumped out to a big lead, in dramatic contrast to their opening stretch against Little Rock a week ago. But a 17-point lead (30-13) late in the first half was shaved to single digits midway through the second, forcing a few more tense possessions than the Memphis coach would prefer. "It's human nature," said Tubby Smith. "Most people have a tough time with prosperity. I tried to be positive at halftime. But I knew we're not playing [as well as we should]. We're not hitting outside shots; that puts a lot of pressure on us." Junior transfer Kareem Brewton — a junior-college All-America last season — missed five of six shots from the field and freshman sharpshooter Jamal Johnson was not sharp, missing all four of his attempts from the field.
The Tigers maintained their lead by hitting free throws, particularly in the second half (12 of 14). Martin hit all eight of his shots from the foul line. The teams combined to hit only five of 27 shots from three-point range and had more turnovers (34) than assists (29). It was ugly, early-season basketball.
"You gotta read the defense," emphasized Smith. "It takes patience. Takes poise. It's pretty easy to guard when you just dribble in one spot."
The Privateers' top scorer, Travin Thibodeaux, was limited to eight points, in part due to foul trouble that allowed him to play only 22 minutes. Makur Puou led New Orleans with 11 points and nine rebounds.
"Our defense was okay," said Smith. "It was outstanding in the first half. But you can't allow 56-percent shooting like we did in the second. It was bad. But we are getting better."
The Tigers return to the FedExForum floor Saturday when they host Northern Kentucky. Tip-off is scheduled for 5 p.m.