The Memphis Tigers took a tough loss last Saturday in Boston to the Massachusetts Minutemen, 73-72, on a last-second lay-in by UMass freshman Terrell Vinson.
The defeat was probably the best thing to happen to the Tigers so far this year.
You read that right. I will say it again: the loss to Massachusetts was the best thing to happen to the Memphis Tigers so far in the 2009-’10 season.
I’ll explain why a little bit later.
Of course, it’s never a fun experience to lose a basketball game. Memphis (and any other team) would much rather be undefeated right now.
But for an Elliot Williams failed three-pointer against Kansas and a fluke loose ball that turned into a bucket against UMass, Memphis would be 9-0.
That’s just not how it works, though. Every game has a winner and a loser. There are no mulligans, no re-dos.
Head Coach Josh Pastner, though keeping a positive attitude, freely admitted that he’d much prefer meeting the media after a victory.
“Hopefully, we don’t do too many more of these after an ‘L,’” he prefaced his remarks to the media. “It’s always more fun after a ‘W.’ I guess that’s part of the job, you gotta do both.”
His players, though generally subdued, seem to be taking the defeat as well as can be expected. To a man, they are eager to get back on the floor so they can put the loss behind them.
Wesley Witherspoon left the loss behind inside of the TD Northbank Gardens.
“Once we left the Gardens parking lot, that game was over with,” he said solemnly. “We left it all there. All we have to do is move forward. Of course, we’re anxious to play now because we’re frustrated right now. That’s gonna show (on Tuesday).”
“We’ve gotta put this game behind us,” insisted Doneal Mack. “We’ve got some tough games coming up. Right now, we’ve just got to worry about ourselves and how we’re gonna get better.
“You win some, you lose some. This game we lost; the next game we get, we gotta win.”
Roburt Sallie, who shot 1-for-9 from the floor on the way to five points, was distraught that his shooting touch continues to desert him.
“I had trouble sleeping, because we gave this game away. We shouldn’t have even been that close with them.
“I’m frustrated with the way I shot the ball, the way I’ve shot the ball this season. I put everything on me. There’s no reason for me to be shooting the way I’ve been shooting this season. I’ve gotta do something, gotta get the kinks out because I’m getting great looks, just missing them.
“I just want to apologize to the city.”
Senior gunner Mack, who led the Tigers with a career-high 23 points, was a revelation with his offense. He would trade the points for a win, however.
“It’s frustrating,” he admitted. “Even though I performed well, I would rather (have scored) one point and won that game. Me scoring (those) points doesn’t really mean (anything).”
Pastner was generally pleased with how hard his team played, but pointed out that UMass played tougher, which showed up on the state sheet as a huge rebounding imbalance: UMass +20, 44-24, with 19 offensive rebounds and a 21-4 disparity in second chance points.
“You’ve got to give credit to UMass because they out-toughed us in that game,” he said candidly. “We showed our guys the film yesterday, we jumped on them, but you know what? It’s in the past, and now, we’ve got to focus on, ‘It’s a slip-up we had.’
“They (UMass) played hard. UMass beat us on the blocks and on the glass. That’s not about playing hard, that’s about a toughness factor.”
Anyone watching the game would agree with the Coach that the game simply shone a bright light on the team’s lack of size and rebounding prowess.
“We didn’t finish plays by getting the rebounds...That’s one of our areas of weakness this season, our rebounding. But that just comes down to we’ve got to find a way, and it’s not all about the bigs.
“Everybody here knows: guard rebounding is so important to us. It’s not about playing hard, because our guys play hard. Rebounding is just about out-toughing that opponent.”
“They really killed us with the rebounding,” Mack admitted. “And that’s what it really came down to, at the end of the day, rebounding and loose balls. They out-toughed us that game, and we’re supposed to be this scrappy, grinding team.
“We didn’t show that last game. That game is behind us now. It’s a long season and we’re looking forward to the next game.”
Ironically enough, the next opponent, Southeast Missouri State, is known as a strong offensive-rebounding team.
Sallie says he doesn’t care who the opponent is or what style of ball they play.
“I can’t wait for tomorrow...I don’t even want to go to sleep tonight, I just want to play the game. That’s just the kind of mood I’m in. We’re gonna take a whole new approach.
“I don’t know anything (about Southeast Missouri State) but to be honest with you, it doesn’t even matter. We’ll be ready to play. I don’t care if the game is at 8:00 in the morning, we’ll be ready to play.”
Mack echoed the sentiments.
“We’re only as good as our last performance,” he began. “I’m not gonna say we’re mad or anything, but we’re ready to get out (being) our upset because we didn’t leave it all out on the floor. We want to get back out there and compete for 40 minutes.”
In the long run, though, the loss could serve a purpose.
Sallie admitted in the locker room after the Arkansas State game that it was becoming difficult for the Tigers to get enthused to play lesser teams.
That shouldn’t be a problem now, as Sallie himself says.
“With this loss behind us, I don’t think anybody will second-guess our effort, because we’re gonna play with 100 percent energy and effort.”
Photo credit: © 2009 Leroy Watson, Jr.