Tigers set for showdown with Knights
University of Memphis head coach Josh Pastner and the Tigers face a tough test tonight against the UCF Knights. Photo By David C. Minkin | special to the daily helmsman
With Monday came news that the University of Memphis men's basketball team had been working toward since a disappointing start to the season. The Tigers (20-3, 9-0 Conference USA), holders of the nation's second longest winning streak at 14, moved to No. 22 in the Associated Press poll after a convincing 89-76 win at Southern Miss.
Tonight, Memphis welcomes the Knights from Central Florida (17-6, 7-2 C-USA), winners of six of their last seven and tied for second place in C-USA, to FedExForum. As it will be for the remainder of the season, the Tigers have no room for error. However, a win tonight also serves as another top-100 RPI win (UCF ranks No. 83) and a rÃ©sumÃ© builder for the NCAA Tournament in March.
"Central Florida is a very good team, they're big and they're well coached," head coach Josh Pastner said. "They've got good players. [Keith] Clanton is the preseason player of the year, but when you have two triple-doubles in a year in college basketball from Isaiah Sykes, that's pretty good."
The Knights provide a stiff test for a Tiger squad that is 13-1 at home this year. Sykes is coming off 20 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists in an 83-73 win over East Carolina Saturday. Averaging 15.7 points per game and 7.1 rebounds, Sykes ranks second on the team in both categories to Clanton, who averages 16 a game and 9.2 boards.
Both teams can score in bunches, with the Tigers averaging 74.3 ppg (No. 40 in NCAA) and the Knights 71.5 (No. 80). Behind Clanton and Sykes, the Knights' Calvin Newell (11.6 ppg) and Tristan Spurlock (11.0 ppg) also provide viable scoring options.
Memphis will have a wrinkle in the rotation, as junior guard Antonio Barton will miss four to six weeks with a hairline fracture in his right foot. Junior guard Geron Johnson, who was named C-USA Player of the Week after averaging 22 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.5 steals in two road wins, will be relied upon more heavily, as well as freshman guard Damien Wilson, in Barton's absence.
"He's a great chemistry guy," said sophomore guard-forward Adonis Thomas on Barton. "He brings defense as soon as he comes in the game. He's a great sixth-man for this team. We'll miss him until he gets back."
Entering tonight's game ranked in February for the first time in four years, the Tigers remain humbled by their journey into the top 25. With eight games left in the regular season, Pastner and his team know there is still much work to be done.
"We've come up with a lot of wins but there's a lot of games to be played," Pastner said. "There's a long season still left. We just got to embrace where we're at."
Tonight's game is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be televised by the CBS Sports Network.
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