You won’t read these words often this season: The Memphis Tigers had too much size for tonight’s opponent. Memphis blocked 10 shots and grabbed 18 offensive rebounds to earn its fifth straight blowout win in the finale to the team’s longest homestand of the season. In contrast to their slow start last Saturday against Arkansas State, the Tigers raced out to a 21-7 lead 12 minutes into the game and all but coasted the rest of the way against MSU.
Wesley Witherspoon came off the bench to score 13 points and pull down eight rebounds, while sophomore guard Elliot Williams led the team in scoring (as he has all seven games this season) with 22 points. It was Williams’ sixth straight 20-point outing. Roburt Sallie filled the stat sheet as well, with eight points, seven rebounds, and seven assists (and only one turnover).
In what amounts to the season’s opening act — a series of games against quite beatable opponents — the Tigers won their five home games since their narrow loss to top-ranked Kansas by an average score of 28 points. Williams, for one, feels the team has made some progress with all the home cooking, but sees an advantage to getting back on the road (Saturday night in Little Rock against Arkansas-Little Rock).
“We’re getting a lot of chemistry,” said Williams after the game. “We’re getting to know each other better. We’re pretty good defensively, but we’re still working on things on offense. It’s always good to play road games; that’s when you find out your true identity. There’s always adversity on the road.”
The Tigers held the Bobcats to 28 percent shooting in the first half and, despite an early run in the second half, 34 percent for the game. MSU’s leading scorer, Bobby Howard, was held to six points in 26 minutes, largely because of the presence of Will Coleman and Pierre Henderson-Niles. D.J. Stephens — emerging as this team’s sky-walker — blocked a pair of shots, as did Witherspoon, whose emergence is critical before the competition heats up.
“One of the things Coach [Pastner] stressed is that Wesley has practiced well,” said Williams. “You practice how you play. He came out with a different mindset.” Witherspoon left the court after being scratched in his left eye six minutes into the second half, but returned to the game a few minutes later. He reported no blurred vision. “I thought it was a foul, though,” he added.
Coach Josh Pastner — who now finds himself on a five-game winning streak — emphasized the importance of retaining intensity as the team returns to the road for the first time in over three weeks. “We still have a long way to go, and I was trying different combinations tonight,” he said after the final buzzer. “This next stretch will help us get a feel for individual performances, through adversity. Making sure we’re staying fundamentally sound in everything we’re doing.”