As the Tigers sleepwalked through last Saturday's game against UTEP in a 60-58 loss, their prospects of winning the Conference USA regular season were dwindling. But then Southern Miss, which had held a half-game lead over Memphis, dropped a road contest against Houston, and the two teams were again tied for first.
Entering tomorrow's game against the Thundering Herd, Memphis — with the help of UTEP, which has played the role of spoiler as of late — owns sole possession of first place in C-USA and, somehow, controls its own destiny.
"That's all you can ask for, so the best thing we can do if we wanna win the regular season is win games," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. "We don't need any help. When you're coming down the home stretch, it's just like a shot — I've always said all you can ask for is a shot to tie or win the game — we've got a shot to win the game, and it's on us."
To help refocus —and, to go a step further, punish — the Tigers as they enter the final stretch in the regular season, Pastner locked his players out of the locker room following the loss to UTEP and removed all namesakes from the game jerseys against East Carolina. The players were not allowed to wear any article of clothing bearing the name ‘Memphis' during practice.
Pastner said as long as it's up to him, the players will go without their names on jerseys for the rest of the season and beyond.
"It was just something I felt was important based on the game (against UTEP)," he said. "That was the one game since Christmas break where we did not play well. That game was a bad game at a bad time, and I just felt it was kinda my responsibility to make sure that doesn't tailspin from beyond that.
"With that being said, we just had to make it a little bit uncomfortable for them as much as we could, and I think we got the point across going into these next three games."
When Marshall visited FedExForum last month, it took a career night from sophomore guard Will Barton for the Tigers to hold off the Thundering Herd, 83-76. The loss came during a stretch in which the Thundering Herd, largely thought to be the number one contender not named Memphis in C-USA, lost six of its last seven games.
While Marshall's record in C-USA is pedestrian at best, Memphis knows how ready the Thundering Herd will be. Last season in Huntington, the Tigers were manhandled in an 85-70 loss.
"We went in there (last season) expecting to beat them again," sophomore forward Tarik Black said. "We felt like we were just a much better team, but we were proven wrong when we went out there. They're a good team at home and that crowd is crazy. It's a crazy place to play in, period."
Tip-off is at 3 p.m. The game will be broadcast nationally on Fox Sports Net.