After nearly knocking off No. 8 Oklahoma Tuesday, Memphis will have no time to linger on the loss, as the Grambling State Tigers (GSU) come to town Thursday.
Memphis will enter the matchup with a 1-1 record after the 84-78 loss Tuesday, but dropping a game that went down to the wire, against a top-10 team—who is most likely their toughest opponent of the season—is no reason for Memphis or its fans to hang their heads.
Coach Josh Pastner made no excuses for losing the game, but said he is proud of the way his players battled and believes Tiger Nation will love this team as the season moves forward.
“I just think we can continue to get better the more we have game experience – the more that we get on the floor, especially for those young guys, but even the veterans who are all gelling together,” he said after the game. “Like I’ve said, I really believe Tiger Nation is going to fall in love with this team based on how hard they played – playing the right way – playing with a scrappy mentality night in and night out, and playing unselfish.”
In fact, after an 18-14 season in which the Tigers missed the postseason for the first time since 2000, this was the most impressive Memphis has looked in a while. They were able to get back to their preferred style of play as a fast-paced transition team—a style they had to abandon last season because the team lacked a point guard who could push the pace.
Senior forward Trahson Burrell said this team is much improved from last year, namely because of the different style of play and the addition of a great freshman class.
“We’re a different team from last year,” he said in a post-game press conference. “Our offense is different. We’re more ‘attack and drive’ or ‘attack and kick’. With addition of the new freshman we got this year, I feel like we’ll be way better than last year.”
After the impressive performance Tuesday, Memphis looks like it will be able to compete with anyone on its schedule. If that is going to remain true though the Tigers will continue to need big performances out of McDonald’s All-American freshman Dedric Lawson.
Lawson is averaging 17.5 points and 9.5 rebounds through the first two games of the season—including a 22-point, 15-rebound performance against the Sooners. If the Tigers hope to prove critics and national analysts wrong and make it back to the NCAA Tournament, Lawson will need to play at that caliber on a nightly basis.
Memphis’s other highly touted big man, senior Shaq Goodwin, will also need to be consistent all season long if the Tigers want to be successful. Goodwin is averaging 11 points and eight rebounds per game.
Memphis’s opponent will be hungry for a victory when they visit the FedExForum Thursday, as GSU enters the matchup with a 1-2 record. The game is the first of four the Tigers will play in the next two weeks as part of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Invitational. Louisiana Tech, Texas-Arlington and Ohio State are also in the tournament.
GSU’s lone victory of the season comes from an 85-26 thrashing of Mid-Atlantic Christian University (MCAU).
GSU is coming off of an 82-55 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes. Memphis must be wary of a very capable backcourt consisting of freshman Nigel Ribeiro (10.7 points, 2.3 rebounds and three assists per game) and junior Michael Bethea Jr. (10.3 points and 2.3 steals per game).
Although GSU has a solid backcourt, they don’t have the strongest post presence, which should bode well for Lawson, Goodwin and Memphis barring any foul trouble.
While GSU has been out-rebounded in both of its losses, perimeter rebounding is probably it biggest strong suit. Three GSU guards lead the team in rebounding with at least five rebounds per contest—junior Velario Altheimer (5.7), junior Ervin Mitchell (5.7) and junior Remond Brown (five).
Memphis will need to be aware at all times as these guard crash into the lane from the perimeter for rebounds.
Pastner knows his team has to have a short memory and immediately adjust the focus to be ready for Thursday.
“There are a lot of positives to take (from the Oklahoma game), and I’m proud of our young men,” he said in a post-game press conference. “We have a quick turnaround, and I told our guys that they need to stay emotionally balanced. I told them before the game that the season is a journey, and we can’t get too high or too low, and be ready to play on Thursday.”
The two Tiger teams will tipoff Thursday at the FedExForum at 7 p.m.
Dedric Lawson is averaging 17.5 points and 9.5 rebounds through the first two games of the season.