MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)—Memphis coach John Calipari has a problem with how he should handle his 18th-ranked Tigers.
On one hand, he’s trying to jump on them enough to encourage aggressive, relentless play. At the same time, he doesn’t want to affect the confidence of individual players.
The equation seemed to balance on Saturday as Doneal Mack scored 18 points to lead five Memphis players in double figures in an 86-46 victory over Middle Tennessee.
“I’ve got my hands full,” Calipari said of dealing with his team’s emotions. “I love this team, but it is the challenge of challenges. I’m trying to coach aggressively, but make sure they love themselves as a group and as individual players. I have to be aggressive because there are things that are not acceptable. So, I’m kind of juggling balls a little bit.”
Mack, who was 6-of-10 from the field including 4-of-7 from 3-point range, is one of those who is just building his confidence. The 18 points were a season high for the freshman guard, who didn’t play in the Tigers’ 79-71 loss at No. 9 Arizona on Wednesday.
“I’m a rhythm player. I play in a rhythm,” Mack said. “If I miss my first shot, I think sometimes I get down. Once I get my first shot, my confidence builds. When I start hitting them, then I start feeling it. I’m not playing timid.”
Jeremy Hunt added 16 points for Memphis (9-3), while Chris Douglas-Roberts went 5-for-6 from the field and had 13. Willie Kemp and Robert Dozier each had 11 points.
Desmond Yates had 12 points for the Blue Raiders (4-7), who got little from their two leading scorers—Kevin Kanaskie and Tim Blue—who were a combined 1-of-15 from the field. Kanaskie, who entered the game averaging 12.7 points, finished 0-for-8 from the field and had only two free throws, while Blue, who averages 10.4, scored five points.
Memphis built an early lead connecting from 3-point-range and was never threatened as the Blue Raiders dropped their third straight.
“It was a nightmare,” Blue Raiders coach Kermit Davis said. “When they make their shots from 3-point range like they did today, they may be the best team in college basketball.”
Memphis opened the second half on a 19-7 run to double the Blue Raiders at 70-35 on a drive by Hunt with 12:38 left.
The 86 points were the most scored against the Blue Raiders this season. Memphis outrebounded Middle Tennessee 43-24, another level of dismay for Davis, who could not recall ever having one of teams beaten that badly on the boards.
“I was disappointed in our energy level, and when we got down, we got kind of a defeated attitude,” Davis said. “It was a total mismatch, and we laid down a bit in the second half.”
Memphis continued to record easy wins at home against lesser opponents. The Tigers entered the game with a 21.4 average margin of victory in its first eight wins.
Middle Tennessee shot 33 percent from the field for the game, including a combined 8-of-33 from its starters.
Memphis shot 55 percent, including 44 percent from 3-point range.
The Tigers took the Blue Raiders out of their zone early by connecting from long range. Kemp hit his first three shots from beyond the arc, and Memphis was 9-of-15 from 3-point range in the first half in taking a 51-28 lead.
“Coach has been on us about making wide-open shots because nobody is guarding us,” Kemp said. “When you’re wide open, you’ve just got to picture yourself making the bucket, and that’s what we did.”
Kemp had all 11 of his points in the first half, while Hunt and Douglas-Roberts each had 10. Douglas-Roberts hit all four of his shots and that helped Memphis shoot 62 percent in the opening 20 minutes.
Kanaskie, guarded primarily by Kemp, missed all four of his shots in the half. He did hand out six assists and finished the game with eight.
Memphis took a 12-2 lead in the opening four minutes and extended it to 20 points with just over eight minutes left in the first half.
“That’s a big difference,” Kemp said of hitting shots early against a zone. “The defense has to come out then and play us, then we can kick it inside to our big men.”