The game was already a celebration. It was the first large gathering of Memphis fans since the official announcement that Memphis would be moving to the Big East in 2013-2014. The discussion in the crowd was pretty much what you would expect. Before tip-off, I heard discussions about R.C. Johnson, the new schedule and the excitement of being done with CSS television games.
Of course, there is still a basketball season to finish and another to play next year before the Big East is a reality. So as tip-off neared the focus shifted to the game and team at hand. The only thing that could ruin the party was a terrible home loss to UAB. Even a close game would be cause for concern as the Tiger faithful desperately want to believe this team has turned a corner.
What happened was better than even the most optimistic Tiger fan could have predicted. The Fedex Forum turned into a Tiger Time Machine. By the first timeout the Tigers were up by 10 points. With nine minutes left the lead had ballooned to 20.
The ball was moving on offense, and the threes were falling at an alarming rate. The Tigers started the game 10 of 12 from beyond the arc. Nothing could go wrong.
The Tigers took a 47-21 lead into the locker room as the crowd attempted to process what just happened. At this point a lady a few rows in front of me stood, turned and reminded the section that it was only halftime and there was a long way to go. Her statement was no doubt informed by having watched this team fail to keep its foot on the gas with a big lead.
While a loss seemed unfathomable, it was possible that the Blazers would get close enough to make the Tigers sweat at some point. Instead, the Tigers not only stepped on the gas, they stepped on the opponents throat. The rout was on and it was genuinely fun to experience on a night that already had reason to be a party.
It was reminiscent of the days when the Tigers didn’t just win their share of Conference USA games, they pummeled their opponents. CUSA home games were frequently turned into showcases for the guys at the end of the bench.
I can’t say exactly when the time machine traveled back to, but the 34 point margin of victory was the largest in a CUSA home game since February 18, 2009. The Tigers beat SMU by a score of 90-47. For some perspective, here were the statistical leaders in that game: points- Shawn Taggart, Rebounds- Antonio Anderson, Assists- Tyreke Evans.
How much importance can you place on blowing out a bad team? Probably not a lot. Then again, it has to be a good sign given that the Tigers have had issues putting away inferior opponents at times. Either way, it was interesting to see the team play like one of the big boys on a night that celebrated the Tiger program finally becoming one.
I can’t fully buy in to this team as a group capable of making noise in the NCAA tournament. The fact remains that they lost to the best teams they played. However, I am starting to believe this team is gelling and dare I say maturing. Only March will tell how good this team can be but as an isolated experience, Saturday night was a heck of a way to celebrate the impending move from the outhouse to the (relative) penthouse.