The 19th-ranked Memphis Tigers hit the road for the first time this season as they take part in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis versus the Rams of VCU at Imperial Arena in the Bahamas on Thursday evening.
Now in his fourth season as head coach at Memphis, Josh Pastner posted a record of 75-29 during his first three campaigns -- the best start of anyone in the position in school history. This year, Pastner has gotten the Tigers off on the right foot yet again, with an 81-66 victory over North Florida in the opener and then a 65-54 triumph versus Samford last weekend.
As for the Rams, Shaka Smart is again at the helm even after receiving interest from much more prestigious programs who courted the young, successful coach. Like the Tigers, VCU also began the new season with a victory (Florida Gulf Coast), but then hit a snag in a 53-51 loss to Wichita State. More recently, the Rams worked their way back into the win column last Saturday with a 90-54 blowout of Winthrop on the road.
In terms of the all-time series, the Tigers own a 4-1 advantage over VCU, thanks in part to an 85-58 victory in the most recent meeting back in 1992. The lone win for the Rams was a 70-69 overtime affair in Richmond two years earlier.
Depending on the outcome of this game, both teams will be back in action in the tourney on Friday, matching up against Duke and Minnesota, respectively.
It was a bit of a close call for the Tigers the last time out, needing an 11-3 run in order to get by Samford, but they did what they had to do in order to remain undefeated. Adonis Thomas, who many consider to be the top performer in Conference USA this season, produced 16 points in 39 minutes of action, yet failed to pull down a single rebound. In fact, Memphis as a whole grabbed just 24 boards in the outing which was one less than the visitors to FedExForum. Antonio Barton chipped in with 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting behind the three- point line, while Joe Jackson accounted for 13 as he nailed all but one of his eight free-throw attempts. Jackson leads a quartet of double-digit scorers at the moment with his 13.5 ppg, adding a team-best 10 assists and five steals, followed by Barton (12.5 ppg), Thomas (12.0 ppg) and Tarik Black (11.0 ppg) as the team puts up 73.0 ppg on a modest 44.3 percent shooting from the floor and a not-too-impressive 29.4 percent beyond the arc.
Against Winthrop, the Rams put five players in double figures as they shot not only 54.5 percent from the floor, but also 13-of-25 behind the three-point line and 17-of-20 at the charity stripe in the lopsided decision. Juvonte Reddic led the way with 17 points and seven rebounds, followed by Treveon Graham and Briante Weber with 14 points apiece. Although he played just 18 minutes off the bench, Melvin Johnson contributed 12 points, followed by Troy Daniels with 11 and Darius Theus who dropped nine points and handed out seven assists. Thanks to the overwhelming win against Winthrop, the Rams are now outscoring the competition by an average of 19 ppg, holding those foes to just 38.4 percent shooting from the floor and 26.0 percent beyond the arc. Reddic checks in with 16.3 ppg and 8.7 rpg to pace the group in both categories, while Theus and Graham account for 10.7 ppg apiece.