“Our guys have to wake up and realize it’s a privilege to be on the floor. Not a right.” Livid would be a fair description of Josh Pastner’s mood shortly after his Tigers won the first overtime game of his young career tonight. Memphis reached overtime only because Arkansas State’s Daniel Bryant missed the second of two free throws with 34 seconds to play. After breezing to a 23-5 lead eight minutes into the game, the Tigers played like a team with Kansas on their minds.
“I knew this was a sense-of-urgency game,” said Pastner. "We can’t afford slip-ups. In high school, in AAU ball, you can show up and not play defense. But not here.”
Facing a Red Wolves team that had lost five of its first six games, the Tigers played down a level or two. They turned the ball over 11 times in the first half alone, with no Memphis player making as many as three field goals over the game’s first 20 minutes.
An 11-point halftime lead was shaved to six just two minutes into the second half. As one reflection of the Tiger attack, ASU was called for only two fouls in the first 15 minutes of the second half. Long-range jump shots weren’t falling for shooters who are capable of making them (Will Barton missed six three-point attempts, while Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford combined to go two for eight from beyond the stripe.)
Count Jackson among those Pastner saw as playing as though he had a “right” to be in uniform. The star freshman from White Station High School was on the bench for the last two minutes of regulation and the first 90 seconds of overtime.
“This is a lesson learned,” said Jackson. “It will open our eyes; any team can come in here and beat us. I noticed it in shootaround today. Guys were taking it easy, not focused.
“When we went into overtime, I just wanted to win. I didn’t care if I was out there or not. You’ve got to take whatever comes to you. I’m hard on myself, and I know when I’m not playing up to my level. A couple of defensive possessions, a guy scored on me.”
Jackson returned to the floor with the Tigers down 69-65 with 3:30 to play in overtime. After a Wesley Witherspoon layup through traffic, Jackson stole the ball and converted his own layup to tie the game. He later converted a three-point play that gave the Tigers a five-point lead that sealed the win.
“If I get the ball in my hands,” said Jackson, “I’m so used to doing it that I’m going to make something happen. I just took my chances, and God was with me.”
Coming off the bench, Will Barton had his third 20-point game in the last four and played a season-high 39 minutes. Witherspoon (12), Jackson (10), and Antonio Barton (10) joined him in double figures. Senior Will Coleman fouled out with 1:18 left in regulation having scored three points and grabbed four rebounds.
Bryant led ASU with 16 points while Martavius Adams added 11 with 10 rebounds. The 14th-ranked Tigers scored 13 of the game’s final 15 points to improve their record to 6-0 in front of 16,342 at FedExForum.
Work remains, though, if the young Tigers are to beat Western Kentucky this Saturday night (let alone the mighty Jayhawks next Tuesday). “I told them tonight,” said Pastner, “this is about you holding yourselves accountable. Our fans deserve better. People are laying their lives on the line for our country, and we’re playing like it’s a right. No, it’s a privilege. When our backs were to the wall, we came through. We were fortunate to get the W.”