Playing for the first time since one of its prized recruits left the team, Memphis proved it can win a tough game.
The 19th-ranked Tigers could face another stiff test if they don’t rebound better.
Memphis looks to open 3-0 on Wednesday night when it hosts a Northwestern State team that could also be undefeated if not for some horrible free-throw shooting.
Two days after coach Josh Pastner announced that guard Jelan Kendrick, a McDonald’s All-American guard, was no longer with the program, the host Tigers defeated Miami 72-68 in a game that began at midnight Tuesday.
Memphis shot 33.9 percent from the field and was outrebounded 51-31.
“This was a hard fought, business like, grind it out win where you put the hard hat on and roll up your sleeves - a blue collar win against a very good basketball team,” said Pastner, whose team hit 14 3-pointers and held a 40-28 rebounding edge in Friday’s 104-40 victory over Centenary.
“Winning is hard.”
So is rebounding, but the Tigers know they have to improve in that area to compete at a high level.
“I’m not going to lie, they out-toughed us in the paint,” sophomore guard Charles Carmouche said after finishing with 13 points and five steals for the second straight game. “… We were fortunate to still be able to win, because whoever wins the rebounding war usually comes out with the victory.
“They were a good team, and they showed us what toughness is really about. We can take that from them and build on that.”
Before facing LSU on Sunday in their first road game, the Tigers will take on the Demons, who nearly won in Baton Rouge in their season opener.
After missing 14 of 27 foul shots in Friday’s 87-78 loss to LSU, Northwestern State defeated Houston Baptist by the same score in Monday’s home opener.
The Demons hit 12 of 25 free throws and were outrebounded by 16, but they had 16 steals and 14 blocks.
“We were pretty good when we were out there pressuring the ball, scratching and clawing and diving and creating some easy baskets off turnovers,” coach Mike McConathy told the school’s official website.
The frontcourt play of senior William Pratt and sophomore center O.J. Evans could cause problems for the Tigers’ two returning starters from 2009-10 - forwards Will Coleman and Wesley Witherspoon.
Pratt had 17 points against the Huskies after scoring a career high-tying 29 in the opener.
In 15 minutes Monday, Evans had career highs with six points, seven boards and five blocks.
Carmouche, along with freshmen Antonio Barton (team-high 13.5 points per game), Chris Crawford (12.0) and Joe Jackson (12.0) have given Pastner plenty of production out of the backcourt, but Northwestern State can counter with junior Louis Ellis and senior Devon Baker.
Ellis, a junior college transfer, scored 17 on Monday, while Baker came off the bench for the second straight game and had 19 with five rebounds and a career-best five steals.
The Demons, who have dropped 27 of 33 on the road, have lost three straight to Top 25 teams since a 64-63 victory over then-No. 15 Iowa in the opening round of the 2006 NCAA tournament.
Memphis is undefeated in four all-time matchups with Northwestern State, winning 97-69 in the last meeting Nov. 18, 2001.