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Shockers too much for Tigers

The Wichita State Shockers – perennial participants in the NCAA tournament – wore down the University of Memphis Tigers in a 85-65 win at the FedExForum on Tuesday night.

The Shockers have played in the last six tournaments, while the Tigers have missed the last four. The Shockers joined the American Athletic conference this season and made  their first appearance in Memphis as an AAC member.

Wichita State came into the game ranked No. 21 by the coaches in the USA Today poll. The Shockers climbed as high as No. 3 earlier this season. That was the highest ranking ever by the school.

Both teams wanted to put heart-breaking losses behind them. Wichita State lost at Temple last weekend and the Tigers lost at East Carolina, where they allowed their opponents to have a season high in made three-pointers.

With a noticeable fan base traveling to Memphis for the game, the Shockers scored the first seven points. Wichita State took full advantage of the Tigers’ poor perimeter defense,  making six shots from long range in the first half en route to a 40-29 lead.

In the second half, the Tigers scored two quick baskets to cut into the Shockers lead. However, a foul by Jamal Johnson on Austin Reaves — while Reaves was shooting a three-pointer – resulted in a rare four-point play and the Shockers pushed their lead back to 11 points (44-33) on one possession.

The Tigers cut the lead to five points (56-49) with 8:53 left in the game. Then the Shockers went on a 29-7 run over the next seven minutes.

In the second half, the combination of too many empty offensive trips crippled the offense of the Tigers. The UCLA cut offense by the Shockers was too much for the Tigers in the second half as Wichita State (18-5, 6-3 American) made layup after layup. The Shockers shot 53.8 percent from the floor in the second half, with 10 layups.

The perimeter defense of the Tigers yielded 11 three-point baskets by the Shockers. Reaves was 5 of 9 from deep and had a game high 22 points. Landry Shamet connected on 4 three-point shots to go with his 20 points. The Shockers outrebounded the Tigers 39-28.

The Tigers’ bench showed some lift after only scoring 8 points in the loss at East Carolina. The bench scored 40 points, with Kareem Brewton Jr. (12) and Raynere Thornton (11) leading the charge. Jeremiah Martin led all Tigers’ scorers with 16 points.

Next up for the Tigers (15-10) will be the University of Central Florida. The game will be at the FedExForum on Sunday (February 11) at 3 p.m. central and will be televised T on the CBS Sports Network.

Post-game quotes and notes

UofM’s David Nickleberry: “We missed our reads. We have to pay more attention to that and we have to talk more on defense better. If we do that. we will be successful.”

During the game, UofM players were yelling back and forth. Said Brewton: “We are fine. We have love for our coaches. … in the moment emotions are high, but we have to be calmer about it.”

On the late game surge by the Shockers, Tigers head coach Tubby Smith said, “They ran the UCLA shuffle cut, where Landry goes off of the back screen and we did not help. Experienced teams will take advantage of you. They went back to it about three times and we didn’t handle it the way we should have. We didn’t get much backside help. First you have to get over the screen. You see it happen once, twice and on the third time you think you would be able to stop it, but we didn’t.”

On what he is instructing his teams to do that they are not doing, Smith said, “Tonight our emphasis was on rebounding and boxing out. We got beat on the boards by 11. When they get 23 points on second-chance points and we only get 4, right away you know that we are not being aggressive.”

On the play of the bench, Smith said, “I saw a ray of hope with our young freshmen. They have been getting better in practice. You get better in practice and it shows up in the game. If you think you have arrived and are not getting better in practice it shows up in the game. That group wants to be starters. I told them to celebrate the bench and not be hanging our heads because you did not play well. Be happy for your teammates. I have more confidence in our bench.”

In the wake of the East Carolina loss, Smith riled some of the fan base with the comment that his team might need some psychosocial help. Smith met with the media before the Wichita game, explaining that his comments were meant to convey that his players are not mentally prepared for the ups and down of the season. Smith said he had coached at places where there were sports psychologist on staff to help the athletes deal with the pressure that comes with a season and develop an enhanced understanding that a good meal and rest is to the mind.

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