Whatever qualities this new band of Tigers is learning about itself, an ability to leave FedExForum with a win despite 40 minutes (or more) of shaky play seems to be prominent. Three days after sneaking by Mercer by two points via two overtime periods, Memphis erased a four-point deficit in the game's final 16 seconds to beat the Samford Bulldogs. Freshman guard Jamal Johnson
— limited to 17 minutes of playing time by foul trouble — grabbed a rebound off a Jimario Rivers miss, connected on a leaner in the lane to tie the game at 64, and drew a foul (against the Bulldogs' Eric Adams). With 2.5 seconds left on the clock, Johnson hit the free throw to improve the Tigers' record to 5-2.
"He was in the right place at the right time," said junior guard Jeremiah Martin
in as appropriate usage of a worn cliche as we'll hear all season. "He stepped up and made a great play."
Martin himself hit a driving layup through stationary Bulldog traffic with 10.8 seconds left to pull the Tigers within two points (64-62). Junior forward Raynere Thornton
forced a turnover on the ensuing inbounds play that set up Johnson's heroics.
The comeback erased what would have been a star showing from Samford guard Demetrius Denzel-Dyson, a native of nearby Covington. Denzel-Dyson scored five straight points (two field goals and a free throws) on three consecutive possessions — aided by two Memphis turnovers — to give the Bulldogs that 64-60 lead. The senior finished the game with 17 points, tied with Tiger junior Kyvon Davenport
for most in the contest.
Memphis improved to 5-0 at home this season despite the Bulldogs leading for thirty minutes and trailing at halftime (this time by nine points) for the sixth time in seven games. The Tigers won despite Rivers going scoreless in the first half (he scored nine points after halftime). They won despite committing more turnovers 16 than they handed out assists (14). Martin struggled from the floor (4 for 15) but hit five of six free throws, every one critical to the final margin.
"It's early," said Martin after the game. "There's a lot of figuring out going on. We need to come out for the next game and play as hard as we did in the last five minutes tonight."
Tiger coach Tubby Smith was pleased with the victory, but doesn't like the developing trend of falling behind, hoping for that escapability. "We had a lot of energy at shootaround," he emphasized. "Very upbeat. You can see by the turnovers, we're not flowing. We've been trying a lot of different things, a lot of different lineups. Tonight was tough because we got into foul trouble, particularly Kareem [Brewton] and Jamal. But Malik [Rhodes] came in and did some good things for us."
Smith's 581st career win came at the expense of Samford coach Scott Padgett, who played for Smith with the 1997-87 national champion Kentucky Wildcats. The Bulldogs fall to 2-7 with the loss and haven't won away from home yet this season (0-6).
"They're still getting to know each other," acknowledged Smith. "But I love the way they compete. And they're pretty resilient.
NOTE: In researching this date in Tiger history, Tiger radio analyst Matt Dillon discovered a jewel of a stat line. On December 5th, 1978, James Bradley
put up the first (now-known) triple double in Memphis history: 14 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists against Western Kentucky. Until Dillon unearthed that box score, Penny Hardaway (twice) and Antonio Anderson were thought to be the only Tigers to register triple doubles.