Let's call it a pattern.
The Tigers improved their home record to a spotless 8-0 Wednesday night with their victory over the Saints of Siena. But for the fifth time at FedExForum, Memphis won after trailing at halftime by at least five points. Junior forward Raynere Thornton
personified the win, getting his first start of the season in place of senior forward Jimario Rivers (who is suffering concussion symptoms after a head injury Saturday against Louisville). Thornton was a nonfactor in the first half, failing to so much as get off a shot. But after halftime, the Georgia native scored 13 points (3 of 4 from the field and 6 of 10 from the foul line). An eight-point Tiger deficit swung toward a four-point Tiger win.
"No one wants to be in this situation," said Tiger coach Tubby Smith, now accustomed to his team's rocky starts. "We don't coach to keep the game close."
When asked what made the difference in his second half, Thornton seemed to deliver a half-joke: "Probably the baby powder. I couldn't hold on to the ball in the first half."
Freshman guard Jordan Horn — who entered the game averaging 2.6 points per game — came off the Siena bench and hit four of five three-point attempts in the first half to spearhead the Saints' early march. He finished the contest eight of 12 from long distance and scored a game-high 24 points in 23 minutes.
The Saints became the sixth Tiger opponent this season to make at least 10 three-pointers, connecting on 14 of 30. "We're not forcing people to put [the ball] on the floor," said Smith. "Thank goodness we had Kyvon Davenport
back there protecting the basket." Davenport blocked four shots and scored 16 points for Memphis, his 10th game of the season with at least 10 in the scoring column. The junior's dunk and ensuing free throw gave the Tigers a 65-62 lead with 2:19 left in the game. His two free throws with 17 seconds left clinched the victory after Horn had pulled the Saints within a point (67-66) with his final trey of the game.
"It was a relief to get this win," said Smith. "Jordan Horn was unconscious tonight. He went to my basketball camp in Minnesota. I did too good a job of teaching him how to shoot."
Smith was pleased with Thornton's contribution, as well as freshman David Nickelberry
's off the bench (seven points and six rebounds in 20 minutes). Junior point guard Jeremiah Martin
tied Davenport with a team-high 16 points and Kareem Brewton
scored 13 in 30 minutes off the bench.
"We were coming off a loss at Louisville, where we played bad," noted Smith. "Maybe they thought they played good. That's the challenge. We did some things well in New York [against the Cardinals], but we did some things poorly, and they showed up again today."
While the Tigers struggled to guard the perimeter, they attacked the rim offensively, getting to the free throw line for 37 shots (they made 26). Siena, on the contrary, only took eight free throws (and made six). Smith insists this team will succeed only if it plays "inside out," as perimeter shooting threats are a scarcity on the Tiger roster.
Now 8-3, Memphis will host Loyola-Maryland Saturday, with tipoff scheduled for 11 a.m.