By Jason Smith of The Commercial Appeal Updated: Yesterday 11:05 p.m
With the University of Memphis struggling to stay ahead of Southern University in the second half Tuesday, Dedra Lawson screamed instructions at her sons from her seat 20 or so rows up from the court at FedExForum.
Lawson demanded her boys to go up stronger with the ball, to play harder. Fortunately for the Tigers, her oldest son, K.J., heard mom’s orders, scoring 15 of his career-high 16 points in the second half to help Memphis edge Southern 72-67 and earn its fifth straight victory.
“That just goes with playing basketball. She’s been yelling since I was 5,” said K.J., whose 5-of-6 shooting performance in the second half included a critical layup with 20 seconds left that gave Memphis a 70-67 lead. “You’re gonna (hear) that one voice — I don’t care how many people (are) in the stands.”
Southern (7-3), which has road wins this season at Mississippi State and at Wyoming, had a chance to tie with 17.2 seconds left.
But junior guard Trelun Banks missed a 3-pointer in the closing seconds with Dedric Lawson draped over him and Memphis leading 70-67. Memphis senior Ricky Tarrant Jr. (11 points, six rebounds, four assists, four steals) sealed the win with a pair of free throws with 1.1 seconds, allowing Dedra Lawson and a crowd much smaller than the 10,752 announced to breathe a sigh of relief.
“We found a way to win. It wasn’t pretty,” said coach Josh Pastner, whose Tigers will face a tougher test Friday when they host Ole Miss (8-2) at FedExForum.
For the third straight game, the Tigers got off to a slow start on both ends and fell behind early, prompting Pastner to say afterward that he might consider a change in his starting lineup. Southern led by as many as eight points in the first half and had a five-point lead (50-45) with a little more than 11 minutes to play.
But unlike their previous two games, the Tigers (7-2) didn’t dominate their opponent in the second half. It didn’t help, either, that senior Shaq Goodwin was in foul trouble the entire night (Goodwin fouled out in the second half with just five points and three rebounds) and that Dedric Lawson struggled offensively (2 of 9 from the floor, five turnovers).
But Memphis got enough from K.J. Lawson and senior Trahson Burrell (15 points, eight rebounds) down the stretch to remain undefeated this month.
“I thought K.J. Lawson, (in the) second half, made some big plays, some big shots to help us win,” Pastner said.
Said K.J.: “In the first half, we weren’t taking our time. When they were bumping us, we weren’t gathering ourselves. We were just quick and had the first-half jitters. In the second half, we kind of picked it apart. We knew what we wanted and we kept going to the goal.”