There are ugly wins, and then there’s the Jackson Pollock the Tigers put up tonight in Hattiesburg. Fitting, I suppose, for a rivalry that in football terms has been called “Black and Blue.” Some thoughts:
• Sometimes halftime can be terribly inconvenient. Elliot Williams erased memories of a certain missed dunk by drilling seven three-pointers in the first half — seven treys in 20 minutes — to stake the Tigers to a 41-26 halftime lead. I was surprised to see Josh Pastner shake up his starting lineup by sitting point guard Willie Kemp to make room for Wesley Witherspoon. But in doing so, the Tiger offense had to go through Williams, and his shot was all they needed in the first half. (By the way, the only player to make more than seven three-pointers in an entire game for Memphis is Roburt Sallie, who dropped ten in the Tigers’ opening-round win of last season’s NCAA tournament. His eight for the game are a Tiger regular-season record.)
Great to see Kemp drain those game-winning free throws, even with his minutes reduced to 17.
• The tandem of Pierre Henderson-Niles and Will Coleman in the pivot for Memphis is baffling. The only true big men Pastner can turn to, the pair tonight combined for 10 rebounds (PHN played 24 minutes, Coleman 23). Southern Miss outrebounded Memphis, 32-26, making this only the second game the Tigers have won this season after losing the rebound battle.
Just as troubling as the inability of PHN and Coleman to control the boards is the fact they combined for exactly two field-goal attempts. There is simply no interior presence to the Tigers’ offense. PHN’s hands aren’t exactly soft, and Coleman’s game is, well, unrefined. Makes an opposing team’s decision to double-team perimeter threats an easy one.
• Where is Doneal Mack? Facing two teams that played lots of zone, Mack missed 10 of 12 shots against Syracuse and nine of 10 tonight. With an eight- or nine-man rotation, a basketball team can hide a cold shooter. But for this year’s Tiger squad, Mack and Sallie — when unable to score from long-distance — are that sore pimple squarely in the middle of their team’s forehead.
• I’ve seen enough of D.J. Stephens’ leaping ability to grow convinced he should play 10 to 15 minutes a game for two elements he brings: shot-blocking ability and offensive rebounding. He’s good for at least one “surprise” block a game when a shooter simply underestimates his hops. And he’ll attack the glass on the offensive end in a way I haven’t seen from the big boys yet.