Tigers’ basketball coach Josh Pastner hit the 150-career win mark, as Memphis took care of Grambling State 83-65 Thursday night at FedExForum.
Memphis (2-1) struggled out of the gate allowing GSU to lead for 12 minutes and 45 seconds of the first half. For the majority of that span, the Tigers looked sluggish, especially on the boards and on the defensive end. Memphis looked like a completely different team than the one who took No. 8 Oklahoma down to the wire just two days ago.
The Tigers were able to get out of their first half funk by switching to a full court press, which not only bolstered the sluggish defense, but also flustered an outmatched GSU squad.
Pastner credited the win to his team’s aggressiveness at the end of the first half and throughout the second. He said the change of pace helped them shake off the sluggish start.
“We started a little slow, a little sluggish, but we found a way to get the win,” Pastner said. “We pressed later in the first half, and changed the pace a little bit. I thought we were a little paralyzed against the zone, so our pace was a little bit slower. In the second half, we made the adjustment of really attacking to the high post and the first few possessions there we just attacked everything in that high-post area there and that loosened things up.”
Freshman forward Dedric Lawson led the way for Memphis for the second consecutive game, posting 16 points and six rebounds. This was the third time in three games that Dedric reached double-figures.
Lawson cited the team’s self-motivation as the key to bringing energy to the game after the Tigers’ slow start.
“I believe the thing is self-motivation,” Lawson said. “Using that edge to get yourself motivated for the game and going out and treating every team the same—whether it’s Grambling State or Oklahoma. We’re working towards getting better every day and being the best team we can be and compete every night at a high level.”
Dedric wasn’t the only Tiger in double figures. His older brother, K.J. Lawson, added 13 points, three rebounds and two assists; Trahson Burrell added a season-high 12 points, to go along with six rebounds and two assists; and senior guard Ricky Tarrant also added 12 points.
GSU played extremely well in the first half, giving Memphis trouble on just about every rebound and 50/50 ball possible, but once the Tigers adjusted and applied the press around the four-minute mark, their talent and athleticism proved too much for GSU.
Grambling finished with three different players in double figures including a 13-point, 9-rebound performance from forward Mark Gray, a 13-point, 8-rebound night out of Ervin Mitchell, and 13 points from guard Nigel Ribeiro.
Memphis shot well from the field (48 percent) and from the charity stripe (80 percent). The Tigers did struggle once again from the three-point line—shooting just 26.3 percent from behind the arc.
Pastner was satisfied with multiple areas of the Tigers’ performance, but said they must improve their three-point shooting.
“There were some positives with our free-throw shooting and again only having 12 turnovers with the pace that we play at, that’s not a bad stat,” Pastner said. “But we’re going to have to make some threes. I mean that’s just the facts of it. We’re going to have to stick them. And if not, though, we’ve got to really attack that high post, but we’re going to have to make some threes. We’re getting some good looks; we just have to put the ball in the basket. But, in the end, we got the win. That’s all that matters.”
After getting out to a big second-half lead, Pastner elected to go with a lineup featuring four freshmen—K.J., Jeremiah Martin, Craig Randall and Nick Marshall—to go along with Burrell. This lineup not only excelled together –never allowing the lead to drop below 17 points—but they showed Memphis fans glimpses of how good they can be.
Martin finished with six points in 23 minutes and looked like a solid point guard for the future if he continues to develop in the backup spot behind Tarrant.
Martin said his focus is getting more comfortable and gaining more confidence in his role.
“I have to get more comfortable with the pace,” he said. “I’m playing with a lot of good players, they’re like my wings. They’re with me until the end. It’s learning and it’s fun too at the same time, because I’m doing something that I’m not used to doing. It’s about a lot of confidence.”
Marshall—although he’s struggled through the first two games this season—seems to be adjusting to the collegiate level albeit slowly. He finished with four points, six rebounds and a huge rejection, which sent the ball flying into the stands.
It will be a process for these freshmen to reach their full potential, but if they continue to get solid minutes like tonight, Tiger fans should see these players have very successful careers at Memphis.
Pastner said he believes Marshall has a ton of potential as long as he stays focused and continues to use this season to develop.
“I thought Nick came in and gave us good minutes,” Pastner said. “Look, Nick Marshall is going to be a really good player for us, it’s just this year it’s going to be a rollercoaster for him in terms of minutes. It’s going to be game-by-game based on how we’re playing, who is playing well and matchups on the other team. That’s just how it’s going to be for him his freshman year, it’s going to be a little bit of a rollercoaster and he’s got to stay the course, but his best basketball is ahead of him. He’s got a chance to be a really good player.”
The Tigers return to action Monday, as they take on University of Texas-Arlington at 7:30 p.m. at FedExForum.