There are no Sunday-afternoon strolls in college basketball. Memphis welcomed Tennessee State to FedExForum — the first meeting between these intrastate Tigers since 1989 — for what some felt would be a tune-up for the showdown three days from now at Tennessee. Instead, Memphis came perilously close to its first “bad loss” of the 2010-11 season.
Freshmen Antonio Barton and Tarik Black came off the bench and outscored the five Memphis starters, 46-37, to help the home team gain its 11th win and first of 2011. Black had a career-high 15 points by halftime and finished with 22 (hitting 9 of 11 shots from the field). Antonio Barton hit five three-pointers in the second half and finished with 24 points (five more than his brother,Will, who took 16 shots to Antonio’s eight). Another pair of freshmen played big roles, with Joe Jackson dishing out eight assists and Chris Crawford nine. Overall, Memphis accumulated 25 assists on 33 field goals.
When asked after the game about the last time he hit five treys in a single game, Antonio Barton said it wasn’t high school. Perhaps an AAU game. “Every time it left my hands, I felt like it was going in,” he said. Back-to-back bombs by Barton around the 12-minute mark brought Memphis within four points (62-58). His fourth of the game gave Memphis the lead (74-73) with five minutes to play, an 11-point turnaround since TSU had led 58-52 seven minutes into the second half. Barton’s fifth trey broke a 79-79 tie with 2:25 to go, and the home team would not relinquish the lead.
“People expect us to blow everybody out,” said Barton, “but that’s a Division I team. As long as we get the win and play hard, that’s all that matters.”
Things got heated with just under a minute to play. With Memphis up 85-81, Antonio Barton was fouled — and floored — driving for a layup. As Barton rose to his feet, the teams exchanged words. Black left the bench, but was intercepted by the Tiger coaching staff before he could enter the fracas. (At one point, head coach Josh Pastner pinned Will Barton against the padded stanchion underneath the basket.) Black was ejected for leaving the bench, but will not be suspended since he didn’t throw a punch.
“He fouled me and said something, and I didn’t react until I saw my brother [step in],” explained Antonio Barton. “It was a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing. We calmed down, and hit the free throws.” Barton’s two makes gave Memphis an 87-81 lead. A three-pointer by TSU’s Kenny Moore (who also had five for the game) brought the visitors within a point (87-86). But Antonio Barton hit another pair of free throws, and Will Barton delivered a breakaway dunk to close the scoring.
“You’ve got to give Tennessee State credit,” said Pastner. “They flat-out shot the ball [hitting 12 of 24 three-point attempts]. When you don’t execute assignments, you give up open shots. We just can’t allow teams to shoot 50 percent from the field. One of my pet peeves is letting teams shoot threes. It’s not that hard of a shot. We have to be in their air space.
“Our five freshmen saved us tonight,” added Pastner. “We need Will Coleman and Wesley Witherspoon — our veterans — to step up and play great for us.”
The Tigers — now ranked 21st in the country — will travel to Knoxville to face the Vols in a nationally televised game Wednesday (ESPN2).
NOTES: Junior Charles Carmouche missed his second straight game with a stomach illness. • TSU had only six players play as many as five minutes, each of them accumulating at least 26. • Pastner was given the first technical foul of his career early in the second half, but clarified after the game that it was not for cursing. He had strolled outside the coach’s box.