Christian Brothers University certainly represented a different challenge for the University of Memphis Friday night. The Buccaneers run a slow, methodical offense and prefer to run down the shot clock rather than run in the open court.
For the Tigers, it was certainly different from last week’s 119-67 win against LeMoyne Owen. It wasn’t necessarily more difficult.
Sophomore guard Will Barton scored 27 points in 28 minutes as the No. 11 Tigers handled the Buccaneers, 79-56, in their final tune-up before the regular season begins at FedExForum.
“I knew going in that [this game] was going to be more realistic going into the game against Belmont and schools like Michigan,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “That was some of our preparation. … We’ve got to be able to adjust and adapt.”
Before going 0-for-7 from the perimeter in the second half, the Tigers showed off some of the very reasons they’re picked to retake Conference USA and make a run in the NCAA tournament with hot shooting and relentless defense.
The Tigers shot 52 percent from the field in the first half and were 6-for-9 from deep while forcing 10 CBU turnovers.
“To me, this team is one of the closest teams to that Derrick Rose year,” CBU coach Mike Nienaber said. “I believe they have an opportunity do some special things. Now, they don’t have a Derrick Rose-type player, but when they are making shots and doing the things they do defensively, they can really hurt you.”
In last week’s exhibition, the opposing team played right into Memphis’ hands; the Magicians relied mostly on their athleticism and ability to run, and they were clearly overmatched by the speedy Tigers.
Against the structured Buccaneers‘ offense, Memphis controlled the game’s tempo by forcing 19 turnovers, many of which came because of its full-court press. The Tigers converted the CBU miscues into 31 points.
“That’s what we thrive off of, getting to our man and trying to make him turn the ball over,” said sophomore guard Joe Jackson, who scored 14 points and had five assists. “We’re quick, and everybody on the team plays 94 feet [from the basket].”
Employing their fast-paced man-to-man defense, the Tigers have forced an average of 22 turnovers in their two exhibition contests.
“We just try to make them uncomfortable on the court,” Jackson said. “That’s what we’ve been doing in these two exhibition games, making guys turn it over and not letting them get into their sets.”
Although they have thrived in creating on-ball pressure this season, the Tigers have struggled thus far with their perimeter defense. The Buccaneers knocked down 11 three-pointers Friday, while LeMoyne-Owen had eight.
The Tigers started the game on a 23-5 run behind 10 early points from sophomore guard Chris Crawford, who finished with 13 points. It was a good rebounding effort from Crawford, who was held scoreless against LeMoyne Owen.
“I wanted to turn the tables around,” Crawford said. “I wanted to pick my game up and play a little harder for my teammates.”
Memphis led by 20 at halftime, but the Buccaneers prevented the game from being blown open by converting six three-pointers in the second half.
“Like we did last year, we got comfortable,” said sophomore guard Antonio Barton, who left the game in the second half after a collision with Christian Brothers forward Michael Drake. “That’s when they started knocking down shots. At any given moment, we’ve got to turn It up and keep it turned up and not get settled and comfortable.”
But now that the Tigers can fully focus on their season opener against Belmont, which lost to No. 6 Duke by one point Friday night, Will Barton said he wasn’t concerned with his team’s ability to defend anywhere — beyond the arc included.
“We’re a very good defensive group,” Will Barton said. “We’re long and athletic. We’ve got good team speed and we like to get after it. … We just gotta keep the tempo up, and hopefully [teams] miss the shot. That’s all we can do. I’m not concerned. We’ll keep getting better.”
NOTESSophomore forward Tarik Black didn’t play due to knee soreness. Memphis coach Josh Pastner said Black will be good to go against Belmont in the Tigers’ regular season opener on Tuesday at FedExForum. “He’s a baller, that’s just the facts,” Pastner said.
Sophomore guard Antonio Barton left the game early in the second half after colliding with Buccaneers forward Michael Drake as he attempted to advance the ball up-court. Drake was assessed a technical foul, and Barton was immediately taken to the locker room by trainer Brad Anderson. Barton said they initially thought it was a broken nose but that he was fine and there was no fracture.