Three days after a dispiriting, 15-point loss at Rice, Josh Pastner had a message (or two) to deliver for his team. With his Tigers backed into a desperate corner (again), Pastner broadcast his first message for the entire crowd of 16,550 at FedExForum. Starting at point guard against Houston tonight was Antonio Barton, with Joe Jackson on the bench for the tipoff for the first time in his college career. Returning to the starting lineup was senior center Will Coleman, who had played all of 12 minutes combined in the Tigers’ last two games. Alongside Coleman was the Tigers’ other big man, Tarik Black, making this only the fourth time the pair has started together.
The new combination — Pastner’s 15th starting lineup in 28 games — served its purpose. The Tigers allowed a slumping Houston team to stay in the contest (ten first-half lead changes), but pulled away over the game’s final five minutes with a 12-3 run for their 21st victory of the season. The win keeps Memphis tied with four other teams in the C-USA standings, each with four league losses.
“I thought we played well,” said Pastner after the game. “Houston is better than their record. Charles [Carmouche] and Antonio [Barton] hit big three-pointers late to open up the game. I give a lot of credit to Joe Jackson. He didn’t pout, didn’t sulk. And he hit a big shot in the second half when we couldn’t score.”
Carmouche filled the stat sheet with 12 points, eight rebounds, and five assists (no turnovers) in 39 minutes of action. Tarik Black added 16 points and three blocks, and Wesley Witherspoon had his most productive game in almost two months: 13 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes.
“There aren’t any second chances at this point,” said Carmouche after the game. “We gotta win out, and pretend like every game is our last. We just have to keep looking forward, and build on this win. When it came down to it, we hit some big shots and pulled it out.”
Consider another message of Pastner’s delivered to freshman Will Barton, who entered the game as the Tigers’ top scorer (13.2 points per game) and busiest player (31.1 minutes per game). The older Barton brother played six minutes tonight and did not score.
“I love Will Barton, and he’s a really good basketball player,” said Pastner. “But I just didn’t think he played well today, and he didn’t produce. When Will Barton’s locked in, he’s really good. But it’s maturity and growing. Preparation doesn’t just start when the ball’s tipped. It starts the night before. I expect him to bounce back.”
Memphis improved to 16-2 at FedExForum this season and beat a Cougar team that has now lost eight of nine games. Alandise Harris led Houston with 16 points and seven rebounds. The Tigers led 44-38 at halftime and never trailed in the second half, Houston never getting closer than two points (57-55).
Freshman guard Chris Crawford had what might be called a triple-cinco: five points, five rebounds, and five assists. “There’s no pressure,” said Crawford. “We just have to get out there and do what we do. We took [the Rice loss] bad, but we went right back out there at practice and got at it. We wanted to take it out on the next team we played. Everybody had a lot more energy.”
The Tigers travel to El Paso to face UTEP Saturday. They’ll be looking for their first win in Texas after losses at SMU and Rice.
NOTES: Antonio Barton collapsed in the Tiger huddle during the final timeout of the game and was taken to a local hospital. Pastner said the initial diagnosis was severe dehydration. Barton played 33 minutes. • Before the game, the crowd was asked to stand and observe a moment of silence in honor of Forest Arnold, who died at his Missouri home on Saturday. The first All-America at Memphis, Arnold played for the Tigers from 1952 to 1956. His number 13 is one of eight jerseys to be retired by the Memphis program.