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Monday, January 14, 2008

Charleston (WV) Gazette - Tigers earn their stripes

Tigers earn their stripes
By Mitch Vingle, Sports Editor
January 13, 2008

HUNTINGTON — Early Saturday, Memphis coach John Calipari accompanied Marshall athletic director Bob Marcum to the Spring Hill Cemetery. He did so to take in the memorial honoring the victims of the 1970 plane crash involving MU football players and staff. He did so as a sign of respect.

Later, Calipari took his No. 2 Tigers into the Henderson Center before a packed house. Memphis ladled supreme athleticism over the host Thundering Herd, winning 68-45.

And the word “respect’’ resurfaced again. For the 9,043 in attendance had to agree: The Tigers are a legit Top 5 team. They deserve every bit of their ranking.

Here’s the deal. Marshall didn’t play poorly Saturday night. Freshman forward Tirrell Baines acquitted himself well. At 6-6, he exhibited toughness inside. (“I loved it,’’ said Calipari. “He wasn’t afraid.”) Markel Humphrey, nursing a sore ankle, and Mark Dorris scored 12 apiece.

The Memphis coach said the contest was one of his team’s most physical games of the season. “They were not backing down,” Calipari said.

Yet the Tigers won by 23 points.

“They have a great defense,” said Marshall’s Humphrey. “Offensively, they have great one-one-one players. Great all-around team.”

Thundering Herd coach Donnie Jones said afterward his team “can’t let them beat us twice,’’ meaning in the next game against East Carolina. But he and MU fans must understand that Memphis is now one of just three undefeated Division I teams. Vanderbilt and Washington State lost Saturday. That leaves but the Tigers, North Carolina and Kansas.

Too, Memphis was coming off three blowout blowouts. In those games, the Tigers scored in the 90s or 100s, while the opponents were held in the 50s. They’ve defeated Georgetown, Arizona, USC, Connecticut and Oklahoma. One NBA scout said they may have seven pro prospects. Yes, seven.

“My hat’s off to Donnie,” Calipari said. “They scored in the post on us . . . We’re 3 and 4 four inches taller per player inside, but they scored on us.’’

To a degree. The Memphis big men, though, led the victors to a 43-28 edge in rebounding. There were 15 Memphis offensive rebounds, leading to a 62-47 advantage in shots taken.

“Their size really bothered us,” said Marshall’s Jones. “Our guys did a pretty good job in the first half . . . To their credit, they wore us down physically.’’

Memphis is athletic, quick and very tough playing pressure defense. There wasn’t one matchup that went in Marshall’s favor. Not one.

Even the Herd fans, after they accepted the game was over, had to marvel. The Joey Dorsey finishes to alley-oops. The Robert Dozier jam to cap a fast break. The guard play of Derrick Rose, who finished with 19 points. When the hosts tried to close at the end of the first half, it was Rose with a reverse layup who quieted a bubbling crowd.

Also, it was a treat to watch Memphis’ dribble motion offense. Some call it the AASAA (Attack, Attack, Skip, Attack, Attack) offense. The Tigers spread defenses, create gaps, penetrate and kick. For them, it’s either the key or the 3.

On Saturday, it was little Willie Kemp attacking, kicking to 6-9 Dorsey and watching the ensuing slam dunk to make the score 21-11. Defensively, Memphis’ pressure once caused Marshall to call a timeout because the Herd couldn’t get it to halfcourt before the 10-second count.

“We got them in the press,” Calipari said. “But we get a lot of people in our press. We’re quick, athletic and long.’’

Memphis is so athletic that the most thunderous ovation of the night didn’t come on a Marshall bucket. It didn’t come during a rally or when John Taft was given his M Club blanket or when Gov. Joe Manchin was introduced.

It came when Dorsey, who had more jams than MTV, doinked a slam dunk attempt off the back of the rim and into the stands.

That’s the kind of game it was at the Henderson Center Saturday. An outmatched team doing its best, actually earning credit from Calipari, yet losing by 23.

And a supremely talented team that one doesn’t often see playing in the state of West Virginia. Memphis, in fact, is the highest-ranked team to ever visit the Henderson Center.

The Tigers are a team that took Marshall’s best effort — and still won going away.

It’s a collection of players those who watched won’t soon forget.

To contact staff writer Mitch Vingle, send e-mail to or call 348-4827.

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