When Memphis sophomore forward Tarik Black botched an easy dunk attempt late in the first half against LeMoyne-Owen, he didn’t sulk.
Instead, the trimmed-up sophomore raced down the floor to swat a Magicians’ shot attempt in a play that wouldn’t have happened last year.
It was yet another sign of progress as the new-look No. 11 Tigers ushered in the season with a resounding 119-67 win against the Magicians in an exhibition on Wednesday night at FedExForum.
“It’s all about improvement and getting better and progress,” Black said. “That’s what I see in us. We keep on progressing.”
The Tigers shot 60.3 percent and had 26 assists on 44 made baskets, a statistic Memphis coach Josh Pastner was giddy over.
“I don’t care who you play, whether it’s LeMoyne-Owen or North Carolina or the Los Angeles Lakers. If you’re moving the ball, you’re moving the ball and making shots,” Pastner said.
Perhaps most encouraging, the Tigers, who ranked 290th in the country last season in turnovers committed, had just 11 against the Magicians.
“After a season where you’re 290th in the country turning the ball over, you want to come back the next year and take care of the rock,” sophomore guard Joe Jackson said. “That’s the only thing coach has been emphasizing in practice. A lot of turnovers equals a lot of losses.”
Will Barton, who was tabbed as a Conference USA first-team selection, put together one of his more complete games, finishing with 22 points to go along with five rebounds, four assists and four steals.
“Coach told me I’m one of the leaders and one of the go-to guys, so I just want to set the tone,” Barton said. “This is how we’re going to play this year. Follow my lead, and this is how we’re going to do it. We’re going to come out fast every game, trying to attack people.”
Wednesday’s win was a stark contrast from last year, when the Tigers played flat and uninspired at the beginning of many games.
Sophomore guard Antonio Barton said the Tigers’ experience from the Tigers’ loss to Arizona in last season’s NCAA tournament has paid dividends for the team.
“Last year, losing in the tournament, that’s a feeling nobody wants to feel again,” said Antonio, who finished with 16 points. “We dedicated ourselves since the end of that game to come out and play hard every game. Don’t let up on nobody, whether it’s an exhibition or not.”