At this point in the season, No. 19 Memphis can't afford to worry about style points.
After struggling at times in a pair of early-season wins, the Tigers will likely need to play better if they plan on beating VCU on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament in Nassau.
Clinging to a three-point lead with 4:21 remaining Saturday, Memphis (2-0) sank eight straight free throws in the final minute to finish up a 65-54 victory over Samford.
The Tigers also had some sluggish moments in their season opener Nov. 12, when they fell behind 20-17 early and were outscored 41-34 in the second half of a 81-66 victory over North Florida.
"We've got to start off the game better with more intensity and more patience," guard Antonio Barton said.
Now comes what appears to be a step up in competition against a VCU team that's knocked off three Top 25 opponents since March 2011. The Memphis-VCU winner will move on to the semifinals Friday against either No. 5 Duke or Minnesota.
"We win (Thursday's) game, everyone is going to be excited," Tigers coach Josh Pastner said. "We lose the game, we're going to get blasted. That's just the way it is."
Adonis Thomas led a trio of Tigers in double figures with 16 points against Samford. Barton added 14 points and Joe Jackson added 13 points, four assists and three steals.
Jackson, a two-time Conference USA Tournament MVP, and Barton are the only Tigers to reach double figures in both contests with 27 and 25 points, respectively.
"All I know is that we're 2-0," Pastner said. "We'll try to be 3-0 on Thursday. In the end, we just have to go out and get the job done. I expect us to play great on Thursday."
They might have to in order to get past the Rams.
After reaching the Final Four in 2011 and the round of 32 last season, VCU moved to 2-1 with a 90-54 victory over Winthrop on Saturday. Wichita State handed the Rams their only loss, 53-51, on Nov. 13.
"Every game is different, every opponent is different," coach Shaka Smart said. "I was happier with our approach (on Saturday) as opposed to our last time out. I think when you get a level of attention as a team or individually coming into the season, sometimes you can lose sight of the fact that you have a long way to go. Win or lose, you need to be reminded that there's a lot of progress that needs to be made."
Junior forward Juvonte Reddic scored 17 points to lead five players in double figures against Winthrop, while Treveon Graham and Briante Weber added 14 points.
Reddic, who had 22 points and 10 rebounds against Wichita State, is shooting 63.3 percent from the field and leads VCU with 16.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.
The Rams hope to stay hot from beyond the arc after hitting 13 of 25 from 3-point range Saturday. They'd hit just 13 of 44 (29.6 percent) from long distance in the first two games.
VCU has also been solid defensively, holding each of its three opponents under 60 points and forcing them into 19.7 turnovers per game. The Rams turned 21 Winthrop turnovers into 35 points on Saturday.
The Associated Press News Service
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