Jamal Johnson proved to be a difference-maker when given a chance to be a starter for the University of Memphis Tigers in their match-up against the Bryant Bulldogs at the FedExForum on Saturday.
The Tigers raced past the Bulldogs 90-72 as head coach Tubby Smith changed his starters for the first time this season. Johnson connected on 4 of his 7 three-point attempts in the first half. He with 18 points, all coming from deep.
“Making the change to the lineup made all of the difference,” Smith said. “He (Johnson) is the type of guy that can make shots when he is open. He is a very willing passer. He is a very unselfish player. He got into the lineup not only because of his shooting, but also because of his defensive play.
“He is very solid and is not going to take too many changes,” Smith said. “He is very fundamentally sound. It was just a matter of time as we are getting more physical. Starting gave him that confidence.”
Before a sparse crowd of 4,373, the Tigers by far played their best game of the season. Jeremiah Martin made 3 of 4 of his three-point attempts. The combination of Martin and Johnson paced the Tigers to a 49-34 lead.
Martin said the relatively easy win over Bryant felt good.
“But I feel like the games we have played, we need those tough games also. If later in the season we had not had any close and it was down to the last possession, it would be new. Every game we have played has been good for us.”
Neither Martin nor the rest of the team knew that Johnson would get the start.
“It was good seeing him in the lineup. He was excited. I was messing with him all pre-game to see if he was nervous. I was glad to see him look comfortable out there,” said Martin, who also was asked about the team’s improvements since the last game.
“I feel we shared the ball more. We had 26 assists as a team. After watching some game film, coach told us we were moving the ball too fast. We needed to hold the ball another second so that the offense could develop. We listened to him and it showed tonight.”
The Tigers biggest deficit was only 5 points. The Bulldogs made only 39.4 percent of their shots, while the Tigers shot 56.3 percent from the field and 57 percent from behind the three-point line.
Kyvon Davenport continued his string of solid and consistent games. Davenport had 15 points and 3 rebounds in the first half. He also had 4 total blocks for the game.
As the half was ending, Johnson hit a buzzer-beating three-point shot as he fell out of bounds to give the Tigers their largest lead of the half, 49-34. Johnson started the second half like he ended the first by hitting his first two shots.
Martin continues to be the leader the Tigers need, finishing with a team-high 24 points. Martin also had 7 assists and only one turnover in the game.
Making his Tigers debut was Karim Sameh Azab, who entered the game at the 8:05 mark. Azab had to sit out last season because the NCAA had not cleared the way for him to play. Azab is a 6’10” and 270-pound center from Egypt. According to coach Smith, he needs to still lose some weight and get into basketball shape.
Next up for the Tigers are the University of Albany Great Danes on Tuesday (December 12) at 8 p.m. The game can be seen on ESPNU. It’s the second game of the Gotham Classic that will be played at the FedExForum. The final game of the classic will be Saturday and pits the Tigers against former conference rivals the Louisville Cardinals in Madison Square Garden on ESPN at 11 a.m.