Fifty percent free throw shooting is not a good way to stay competitive in a close ballgame. The Tigers learned this (again) tonight as they watched Xavier steal a game that they were a half-court bank-shot away from missing altogether. Xavier made 68% of their 37 free throws, pushing the Mouseketeers to a 63-58 win over the Tigers.
In the ugliest ballgame of this early season, the Tigers looked disjointed, confused, out-manned and out-dueled in every aspect of the game (except for technical fouls from assistant coaches, which is one of the few categories led by the Tigers).
Xavier's leading scorer, Derrick Brown, fouled out having only scored 2 points on 0-6 shooting. Don't worry about Brown, though. The rest of his team picked up the slack.
Four players reached double figures, with B.J. Raymond playing an outstanding game in which he totaled 11 points, 8 boards, while seeming to be in all the right places on the court for X tonight.
Let's not forget Terrell Holloway, who, as a freshman, went 10 for 10 at the free throw line. He sank the free throw that put X up by three with 27 seconds left. This apparently triggered a siren in Tyreke Evans' thick skull that, even though he had only made one jump shot and was 4 for 15 at that point, he should set the team upon his noble shoulders and take the next three that he could.
Disregard the fact that common basketball knowledge dictates that you take the ball to the hole with that much time left, score an easy basket, thus forcing the opponent to make high pressure free throws (especially considering X was 2 for 4 at the free throw line to finish the game). Yes, disregard your only clearly discernible talent to this point, which is actually getting to the goal, and take another jump shot, please.
Even if you buck conventional basketball knowledge, coaching and common sense and want to tie the game with 27 seconds left, get the ball to Mack, who's been hitting threes all tournament long, or even to Dozier, who was 2 for 4 from three point land tonight.
To be fair, all the starters looked bad tonight. As a group, they shot 30% from the field, committed 8 of the team's 11 turnovers and shot 46% from the free throw line (12% less than last year's terrible free-throw shooting team). Granted, these percentages are a little biased because the starters played 75% of the minutes in tonight's game. This was the most important stat of the night.
Against Seton Hall, definitely a better game than tonight's, the Tiger starters (Anderson, Mack, Taggart, Dozier, Evans) played 55% of the minutes. The starters shot 46% from the field, committed only 5 of the team's 11 turnovers and shot 78% from the stripe!
These aren't surprising numbers. Every coach would like to have enough decent players to sub so that the starters can get 20-25 minutes a game and stay fresh. Most teams don't have that kind of depth, though, and Memphis has been spoiled for a couple years by having some good talent to come off the bench every game. My argument tonight and for the rest of the season is that the talent was sitting on the bench in the form of Jeff Robinson and Roburt Sallie. Spoon came in and played some big minutes and will continue to do so, but the other players need some time, as well. Kemp, Niles, Sallie and Robinson are all talented guys. Of those four, Sallie and Robinson were playing out of their minds for the brief time they were in tonight.
Robinson took only one shot (missed it), but he went 4 for 4 from the stripe (enough reason to put him in at the end of the game, in my opinion) and he played tenaciously, with a huge block, a thunderous dunk, and good intensity.
Sallie is a fuse for this team. Light him up! He brings it on every defensive possession and he's getting more comfortable with his shot, tying the game tonight with a huge three pointer, after which he was promptly yanked from the game. Why, Cal?
The coaching staff needs to remember that there is young talent on the bench who can contribute in big ways. The limited minutes played by Sallie and Robinson were a breath of fresh air as Tyreke threw up awkward slingshots from all over the court. He looks like a freaking catapult.
While the coaches are at it browsing this crazy blog for advice (yuk), slap Tyreke across the head like his momma used to. Shooting 4 for 16 is a rough night, which happens to everyone, but most of those 12 misses were either long jumpshots (only one of which he made), circus shots as he spun through the lane or ill-advised shots in which he ran down court, teleported back to high school, forgot all about his teammates and took an ugly shot way too early in the shot clock.
Altogether, the tournament could've been better. We saw some good things from Mack and Anderson, flashes from Dozier and Taggart, and some minutes from Sallie and Robinson that should keep the coaches busy when reviewing this game.
Hey Tiger fans... It could be worse. At least we're not USC.