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.
A season of give and take continued for the Tigers tonight at FedExForum. In a game that featured 14 lead changes, Memphis took a little more than they gave to earn its 20th win of the season and fourth straight. In improving to 8-3 in Conference USA play, the Tigers leapfrogged UAB in the league standings and — with UTEP’s loss to Southern Miss — now occupy first place by percentage points (the Miners are 7-3).
UAB went on a 16-5 tear to open the second half and take a 40-33 lead, only to see Memphis answer with a 16-4 run. Playing without junior forward Cameron Moore (15.6 points per game), the Blazers stayed in the contest behind freshman Anthony Criswell (12 points, eight rebounds), sophomore Ovie Soko (18 points), and senior point guard Aaron Johnson (12 points, 10 assists).
Freshman Will Barton led the way for the Tigers with 17 points, followed by Joe Jackson with 12 and Charles Carmouche with 10. Jackson played 20 minutes, his most in four games, and converted two free throws inside the last minute that helped preserve the win. (Memphis made 6 of 9 foul shots over the game’s last 60 seconds.)
The Tigers have now won 11 straight over UAB. Will Barton acknowledged the 20th win as an important milestone. “To get 20 wins this early in the season is big,” he said in the locker room after the game. “We’ve just got to keep it going, keep pushing. Our conference is underrated; no game is a push-over. Come tournament time, you have to be able to win tight games.” Memphis is now 13-2 in games decided by fewer than 10 points.
Junior forward Wesley Witherspoon returned to the floor after missing the previous nine games due to a suspension and knee soreness. He hit all three of his field-goal attempts in 15 minutes of action. “When I found out he was playing,” said Chris Crawford, “I was probably the most excited, because I missed him. He brings a lot of energy. He’s a veteran, so we look up to him.”
The Tigers held UAB to 36 percent shooting from the field. Which is precisely what coach Josh Pastner considers the difference in this team’s fortunes. “The bottom line is difference,” he said. “We lead the league in field-goal-percentage defense. You’ve got to hang your hat on defense. We let guys have some freedom on offense, but you have to be able to defend.”
Memphis plays three of its next four games on the road, including what could be a battle for first place at UTEP on February 26th. “Every game is important,” emphasized Pastner. “A lot of people didn’t think we’d get 20 wins when we had our backs against the wall, twice. But this game’s done with. Tomorrow, we have to get back to work. Rice is a good team. We’re going to have to come out with an unbelievable fire and passion.”
Senior center Will Coleman only played eight minutes (and didn’t score a point or grab a rebound). Pastner said it was simply a matter of playing style tonight, the flow of the game dictating his substitution pattern. Coleman left the locker room before the media was allowed to enter. Freshman center Tarik Black was held to seven points (on 2 of 8 shooting) and seven rebounds in 31 minutes. Nonetheless, the Tigers outscored UAB 30-26 on points in the paint.
The Tigers’ next home game will be Tuesday against Houston, with tip-off set for 8 p.m.
Josh Pastner chuckles when he refers to his basketball team as “the cardiac kids.” But then he describes fans that insist he stop joking about chest pains and heart attacks after the latest narrow Tiger win. Deep breath, Coach.
Having trailed most of the game tonight against a Southern Miss team that entered FedExForum riding a four-game winning streak, the Tigers pulled out another nail-biter, finally separating themselves with a 10-3 run over the game’s final three minutes. Will Barton scored on an inside move with just under a minute to play to give Memphis a 63-58 lead. After a three-pointer by the Golden Eagles’ Angelo Johnson closed the lead to two, Pastner called a timeout with 35 seconds to play. The ball again found Barton who isolated himself for drive to the basket and converted an up-and-under shot to seal the victory.
“The play actually wasn’t designed for me,” said Barton after the game. “I waved Chris [Crawford] off, because they had a bigger guy on me I didn’t think could guard me. I wanted to get to the rim, make a basket or get an assist. With the game on the line, I’m not going to let someone else have the ball. I envision it, and it’s a reaction. My focus is getting to the rim, if not on my first move, then on a secondary move.”
The Golden Eagles raced out to a 12-point lead midway through the first half, led by six at halftime, and remained in front until Tiger junior Charles Carmouche buried a three-pointer to tie the score at 51 with 8:45 to play. D.J. Stephens hit a jump-hook and dunked an alley-oop pass around a three-pointer from Southern Miss star Gary Flowers to make the score 57-54 with five minutes to play. But Flowers fouled out ten seconds later, having been limited to 19 minutes and 14 points (six below his average).
Tiger center Tarik Black managed to stay out of foul trouble in the first half, despite guarding Flowers (along with a few teammates). He ended up playing a season-high 35 minutes, scored 17 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and blocked four shots. “We want to get on our own winning streak,” said Black after his team’s third consecutive victory. “This was one road block, and we had to knock it down.”
Freshman guard Chris Crawford played a stellar game for the home team, with nine points, seven rebounds, five assists, and a pair of free throws for the final points of the contest. Will Barton joined Black in double figures with 16 points, including those two critical field goals in the game’s closing minutes.
“This was a good win,” emphasized Pastner. “That’s an NCAA tournament team. They don’t get enough credit for going to Cal and winning. I’ve been in the Pac 10, so I know how hard that is. They’ve got a pro [Flowers] and a case could be made for Larry Eustachy as [C-USA] Coach of the Year. We stopped the three, and we came up with some big rebounds late.”
The win improves the Tigers’ record to 12-2 in games decided by fewer than 10 points. Better, the win moves Memphis ahead of Southern Miss (now 7-4 in league play) in the C-USA standings. “I’ve never been around a bad win,” said Pastner when asked if beating a potential NCAA-tournament team is especially rewarding. “Win by one or win by 88, it doesn’t matter. Winning’s fun, and losing stinks.”
Now 19-6 (7-3 in C-USA), the Tigers will host UAB Wednesday night at FedExForum. Tip-off at 6 pm.
Losing streaks can be deadly to NCAA tournament dreams. The Tigers must deal with their first such slide of the 2010-11 season after dropping tonight’s game against the Golden Hurricane, their first loss to Tulsa since the 2001 NIT semifinals. Despite limiting Justin Hurtt — who entered the game averaging 20.5 points per game — to 11 points (all after halftime) and despite holding Tulsa to 34-percent shooting for the game, the Tigers lost their second Conference USA game at home over the last six seasons. Memphis now must head to Gonzaga for Saturday’s game with a record of 16-6 (5-3 in C-USA play) . . . and that losing streak.
“Shots just wouldn’t go down,” said Will Barton in a quiet locker room after the game. “Looks we usually hit just didn’t go down tonight. It’s tough on your psyche. I tried not to get too down, not to worry about my individual shot. But I’m so distraught right now.” Barton made only two of eight field-goal attempts and finished the contest with 11 points. With the Tigers down 62-61 and a minute left to play, Barton drove the baseline and attempted a fade-away jumper from the right side that didn’t fall. True to form for this game.
“Tulsa got 33 extra offensive possessions,” emphasized coach Josh Pastner. “They had 16 offensive rebounds and we had 17 turnovers. And the turnovers were unforced. We have to learn to value the basketball.”
The game was rocky from the early (6:00) tip-off. Tulsa shot 28 percent in the first half but only trailed 30-27. Tulsa center Steven Idlet was limited to 21 minutes by foul trouble, but still scored 17 points on 8 of 11 shooting. The Tigers’ Will Coleman and Tarik Black combined for nine fouls (Hurtt converted two go-ahead free throws after Coleman fouled out with 1:19 to play), but also contributed a total of 24 points and 19 rebounds. Coleman earned his second double-double of the season, and Black his eighth consecutive game with at least nine points. Joe Jackson led Memphis with 16 points but was also one of three Tigers with four turnovers (along with Black and Chris Crawford).
Down three with eight seconds to play, the Tigers forced what appeared to be a turnover when an inbounds pass bounced out of bounds off the knee of Tulsa’s Idlet. Officials, though, didn’t see the play clearly and went to the possession arrow, which awarded the ball to the Golden Hurricane. Antonio Barton managed to steal the inbounds pass, but missed a three-point attempt from the top of the key. Will Barton pulled down the rebound but missed another long-distance attempt from the right corner. The win for Tulsa ended a 12-game losing streak to the U of M and improved the Golden Hurricane’s record to 12-10 (5-3 in C-USA action).
The relentlessly positive Pastner wouldn’t hear of dampened spirits after the loss. “We still have a lot to play for,” he said. “No matter what, if we can go 8-0 in the second half of the league race, we’ll be 13-3 and we’ll have won the league title. We’ve put ourselves in a bit of a hole, but we’re gonna have to find a way to get out of it. In the end, you always have an opportunity in the C-USA tournament. We want to play in the NCAA’s and compete for national championships. But to do that, we have to value possession of the basketball. We emphasize it, we run for it. We’ve got to protect it.”
Senior center Will Coleman shook his head at the suggestion of a losing streak taking hold of his team. “We had a slight mishap,” he said, a bright, white Tiger cap atop his head. “This is no downward spiral. We’re going to be fine. I have faith in my guys.”
• The great Jack Eaton was saluted before the game, as he will soon enter the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. “Big Jack” was the longtime voice of the Tigers, from 1959 to 1987.
• Junior guard Charles Carmouche missed the game with a knee injury suffered in a collision with Will Barton during practice Monday.
• The controversial call on the inbounds play near the game’s end is not a “correctible error,” and no video replay was considered to confirm the officials’ call. Thus the possession arrow.
Perhaps a corner has been turned. Coming off back-to-back road wins at Southern Miss and UAB, the Tigers dismissed any thoughts of a letdown against a slumping UCF team by storming out to a 19-point halftime lead tonight at FedExForum. Freshman swingman Will Barton hit six of nine shots for 14 points over the game’s first 20 minutes, and Memphis used a 15-2 run over the last four minutes before halftime to essentially put away a team that three weeks ago was 14-0. The Tigers shot 53 percent from the field in the first half (and 48 percent for the game) against the top-ranked defense in Conference USA.
The win improves the U of M to 16-4 (5-1 in C-USA play). And it gives the Tigers a four-game winning streak, their longest since starting the season 7-0. But the mood afterward was hardly satisfied.
“A good win for the Tigers,” said coach Josh Pastner after the game. “We are such a young team, the youngest the University of Memphis has ever put on the floor. One of the things we have to learn is that when you have a team down, you can’t get loosey-goosey. The offensive rebounds we gave up and the turnovers we allowed in the second half . . . that’s the sign of a young team.”
Will Barton scored a game-high 17 points for the Tigers, with Joe Jackson adding 12 and Will Coleman and Chris Crawford each scoring 10. Despite fouling out with 8:14 left to play, freshman center Tarik Black scored 9 points and blocked 5 shots. He’s the first Memphis player to have six straight games this season with at least 9 points. Like his coach, Black feels the team is improving, but only as part of a process.
“We’re getting better; it’s a steady process,” said Black after the game. “This game wasn’t consistent for the whole 40 minutes, but we put a good 30 minutes together. It’s probably the best we’ve been for the longest.”
Black attributed the separation on the scoreboard to the style the Tigers were able to play, especially early in the game. “We’ve always considered ourselves a running team, an athletic team,” said Black. “I don’t think too many teams in the country are as athletic as we are: Joe [Jackson], Will Coleman, D.J. [Stephens], Will Barton. I’d like to think I’m pretty athletic.”
The Tigers held UCF to 35-percent shooting for the game. The Knights’ leading scorer, Marcus Jordan, only had six points at halftime and finished with 13. Keith Clanton was held to 7, less than half his average. The loss is the fifth straight for UCF (now 14-5).
“We got our offense off our defense,” said Pastner. “That’s why we were able to extend our lead.”
So, a corner turned? “I don’t think there’s necessarily a corner to turn,” said Black. “But we’re getting better, and you can start to see how much we’ve learned.”
The Tigers travel to Marshall Saturday to face the Thundering Herd, a team they beat in Memphis on January 15th.
Some days, two centers are better than one.
Playing without the suspended Wesley Witherspoon, the Tigers utilized their two biggest players — Will Coleman and Tarik Black — together on the floor for extended stretches this afternoon. The lineup twist paid dividends. When Coleman entered the game midway through the first half, the Tigers led Marshall 17-15. Over the next five minutes, with Black and Coleman on the floor for most of them, Memphis outscored the Herd 18-0. The Tigers’ lead from that point was never lower than 11. Ask each of the twin towers about sharing the floor, and you’ll get the sense the fun has just begun.
“It was a good time; I had a blast,” said Coleman. “It’s time to go, time to get that engine started. I feel like me and Black, we have a relationship amongst bigs that no one else has. I love him to death. We work together, we hang out together, we’re in the gym together. Every night, till about 1 or 2 in the morning. We’re both so capable of doing so much stuff. We’re working on his left-hand hook. I love that about Tarik . . . he’s such a versatile player.”
Coleman had his first double-double of the season, scoring 19 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, while Black wasn’t far behind with 12 points and 9 boards.
“We’re mobile,” emphasized Black after the game. “So when [an opponent] tries to go to a smaller lineup, we’ll be bigger but can still defend. It makes it easier on our guards, because they have two shot-blockers instead of one. It makes it easier for rebounds, because we have two guys taking up space.”
Was Black aware of Coleman’s presence when he had the ball? Was there any congestion in the lane? “If I have the ball, and we’re both in the game, [the opponent] isn’t going to help on me,” said Black. “If you double one of us, it’s gonna be a dunk [for the other guy] or an and-one. There’s elbow room, because they’re not helping in the paint.”
Junior Charles Carmouche re-emerged after almost a month of sagging play, due largely to a recent illness. After scoring eight points over his last four games, Carmouche drained three three-pointers Saturday and finished with 16 points, matching his season-high. Will Barton added 15 points and dished out five assists (with only one turnover).
The Tigers only attempted nine three-point shots, their fewest of the season to date, a reflection of the inside-out offensive attack centered around Black and Coleman. Defensively, they held Marshall to 37 percent from the field and only 4-of-18 from long range. DeAndre Kane led the Herd with 16 points.
“I was really proud of our team today,” said coach Josh Pastner. “I love the fact we had 48 points in the paint. We didn’t have any gray areas, no lulls. We kept executing our game plan, and there were no blown assignments.
Pastner said he liked the Black-Coleman combination, but that it was more a reaction to the personnel on the floor for Marshall than a grand new scheme. “We were down a guy or two, and it forced us to be in that position,” said Pastner. “Sometimes it depends on matchups.” Unspoken — but implied — was the void left by Witherspoon. A compelling new angle to this season of inconsistency for the Tigers will be how Witherspoon’s return (whenever that is) impacts the chances for Memphis to “go big” with its two centers. For one day, at least, the combination was pivotal.
The Tigers (now 13-4 and 2-1 in C-USA) will travel for their next two games, Wednesday at Southern Miss then next Saturday at UAB.
It’s come to this. A 3-point win at home over the East Carolina Pirates is a relief for the Memphis Tigers.
Saturday afternoon at FedExForum, the Tigers saw a 12-point halftime lead evaporate, but hit some key shots over the game’s last seven minutes and made just enough free throws to earn a victory in their Conference USA opener. Perennial C-USA bottom-feeders, ECU is now 0-9 against Memphis (and 8-7 overall this season). The Tigers improve to 12-3, though they’ll be outside the Top 25 when the polls are updated Monday due to their loss last Wednesday at Tennessee.
“I said before the game, I hope we win so we can get some positive vibes out there,” chuckled coach Josh Pastner after the game. “You come off a game like we played at Tennessee — the criticism was earned and deserved — I wanted to make sure we didn’t have anything infect us with negative energy. I cannot stand negativity. We couldn’t let anything linger as we move forward.”
The Tiger defense stifled ECU in the first half, allowing only five field goals over the game’s first 20 minutes. When the Pirates hit a pair of three-pointers in the first 90 seconds, Pastner substituted an entire five-man unit, and a 10-3 deficit became a 20-13 lead over a ten-minutes stretch. The same mass-substitution was made early in the second half, a factor in ten different Tigers playing at least 15 minutes over the course of the game.
“I felt like we got a monkey off our back,” said Pastner. “I’m going to give them their first day off tomorrow in two weeks. It will be good for everybody.”
Work remains for this team to approximate the Top 20 ranking it held when the season opened two months ago. The Pirates stuck around by hitting eight of 21 three-point shots. (The Tigers have now given up 32 treys over their last three games.) Memphis missed 13 free throws and several layups, most notably Wesley Witherspoon, who finished the game 3 for 8 from the floor for 8 points, with 6 turnovers and no assists. Tarik Black came off the bench and led Memphis with 12 points and 7 rebounds in just 18 minutes of play. Will Coleman was the only other Tiger who reached double figures in the scoring column (11). The Tigers missed 11 of 13 three-point attempts.
“We missed free throws, and we had 20 turnovers,” noted Pastner. “We can’t miss fastbreak opportunities. But we grinded it out, won a conference game, and we’re 1-0.”
When asked if the start of conference play — and the standings that are impacted with every result — represents a fresh start, Coleman was evasive at best. “None of us bother with that,” he said. We don’t pay attention. We just play. We just have to stay together. We wanted to make sure guys didn’t fall apart. Close games like this show how much we stick together.”
Freshman guard Chris Crawford added, “I don’t like the way we won. It’s nice to have a win under your belt, but I would have preferred a blowout.” Crawford felt there was a message to the mass substitutions at the beginning of each half (he was among the starters), and it may be one his teammates will get used to hearing: “If you’re not going to play defense and rebound, you’re coming out.”
The Tigers travel to Dallas to face SMU Wednesday night. Their next home game will be Saturday, January 15th, against Marshall.
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.
During his prime, Jack Nicklaus was famously described as playing a game with which the rest of the golf world was unfamiliar. Tonight at FedExForum — and in front of a national TV audience — the Georgetown Hoyas played a brand of basketball with which the Memphis Tigers haven’t been acquainted in some time. If there are indeed eight teams in the country better than Georgetown, be glad none of them are on the remainder of the U of M schedule.
A young man by the name of Henry Sims dished out five assists for Georgetown in 17 minutes of play, more than any Tiger on the floor (or any other Hoya, for that matter). Sims is Georgetown’s backup center.
John Thompson has built a team with experience, size, and depth, three areas the Tigers must address if they are to compete beyond the confines of Conference USA. And Josh Pastner recognizes it. “Georgetown executed. When a team shoots 57 percent, it’s hard to beat them,” said Pastner after the game. “We have to stay together, no finger-pointing. There are going to be peaks and valleys. We have to be patient. This is normal. As we get into January, we have to see some signs. This was an experienced team, and the way to beat experienced teams is by hanging your hat on defense. I thought we had opportunities, but we just kept missing short shots, a lot of layups.”
The Tigers received an energy boost when junior Wesley Witherspoon not only suited up, but started the game, merely two weeks after knee surgery that was originally believed to sideline him more than a month. Witherspoon started in place of freshman Tarik Black, who has experienced flu-like symptoms and required an I.V. at halftime. (Black managed to hit five of six shots in just nine minutes on the floor.) Despite having practiced well for two days, Witherspoon’s play was rocky at best: one of five from the field with three rebounds and three turnovers in 19 minutes.
Hoya swingman Austin Freeman — the preseason pick for Big East Player of the Year — scored a game-high 24 points on 9 of 12 shooting. As a measure of Freeman’s total impact, consider the Tiger assigned to guard him for much of the game — Charles Carmouche — went scoreless in 21 minutes on the floor. Fellow senior Chris Wright added 19 points for Georgetown while senior forward Julian Vaughn scored 15 and grabbed 10 rebounds. What was a four-point Hoya lead at the half became a 13-point cushion less than seven minutes into the second half.
“This is my last year, and I do not want to lose, ever,” said Tiger senior Will Coleman after the game. “You could tell who was the veteran team. It’s nothing against my guys; they do what they can to grind it out. But they stay sound, poised.” Coleman scored 12 points and pulled down six rebounds, and offered direction for his teammates as the season moved toward the new year.
“You can’t get razzled,” he said. “You can’t get your feathers flustered. You gotta make sure you keep your head, and don’t get frustrated. Don’t be lazy. Don’t go home and sit on the couch [for the holidays.] I’m pretty sure everyone here was ‘the man’ in high school, so they shouldn’t have much trouble finding a gym.”
Will Barton led the Tigers in scoring with 18 points (seven for 17) and rebounds with seven. Point guard Joe Jackson had an especially tough night against Georgetown’s veteran guards, missing seven of eight shots and turning the ball over four times.
“I’m disappointed,” said Pastner, “because in the preseason I thought we had the chance to be a tremendous team shooting the ball. There’s a lot of basketball to be played, though. We gotta stay upbeat.”
The 16th-ranked Tigers will now get a three-day break for the holidays and a full week before their next game (against Lipscomb at FEF on December 30th). “Losing’s the worst,” said Pastner. “It should stink to them. I don’t think anyone will take a loss harder than the head coach, but I want it to sink in. I don’t want them to get used to losing. They should hurt, because I know I’m miserable.”
Have nine days in the history of Memphis Tiger basketball ever felt longer? Tiger Nation was still grieving the dispiriting loss to Kansas in New York City on December 7th when coach Josh Pastner announced that junior forward Wesley Witherspoon — the team's top scorer — would undergo knee surgery and be out of the lineup for five weeks. A day later, junior forward Angel Garcia announced he was leaving the team to play professionally in Spain. That news simmered a day or two before sophomore forward D.J. Stephens was sidelined with a groin injury. What was a 10-man rotation for one game became a 7-man unit the next (tonight), with a redshirt removed from freshman forward Hippolyte Tsafack.
A return to the floor would surely be salve for the wound (if the wound had, in fact, stopped bleeding). Enter the Austin Peay Governors.
After falling behind 24-14, the Govs went on an astounding 29-4 run that bridged halftime and gave the visitors a 15-point lead not quite seven minutes into the second half. After scoring only four points in the first half, Austin Peay’s top scorer, Tyshawn Edmondson scored 12 in the first eight minutes of the second half.
The Tigers responded with a 19-4 run of their own, sparked by the long-distance marksmanship of Charles Carmouche (three of five from beyond the arc) and Chris Crawford (five of eight, including two in overtime).
Emondson drained a three-pointer to give Austin Peay a 55-53 lead with a minute to play. After each team hit one of two free throws, freshman guard Antonio Barton hit a runner from ten feet to tie the score with 12 seconds left. “Coach [Jack] Murphy had me working on that shot all week in practice,” said Barton in a relatively quiet Tiger locker room after the game. “It was kind of funny, because he said you never know when that shot will come in handy. So I felt comfortable in that situation.” Barton finished the game with nine points.
After a last-second drive by Edmondson was thwarted, the Tigers gained control in the extra period. Crawford hit a pair of three-pointers and was followed by a Will Barton trey to give Memphis a 65-62 lead with 1:45 to play. Will Coleman scored inside to make it 67-62, then Joe Jackson and Will Barton each split a pair of free throws in the final minute to provide the final margin of victory. A final attempt by the Governors — on a baseline inbounds play — went awry from the right corner as the buzzer sounded.
“We just kept our heads up, stayed focus,” said Crawford, who finished with 18 points to lead the Tigers. “I’m never shy about taking the long ball.”
The Tigers improved to 8-1 on the season, despite giving up 74 shots to the Governors (Memphis took 56), the result of Austin Peay grabbing 22 offensive rebounds and outscoring the Tigers 19-5 on second-chance points. Memphis committed 24 turnovers, compared with 20 by the Governors. This was ugly basketball.
“You gotta fight through it all,” said Crawford. “Without D.J. and Wesley, we just had to grind it out.”
“That was scary,” said Coleman. “They killed us on the boards. We stayed in there the whole 45 minutes, and grinded it out.”
Having lost a trio of players who averaged a combined 52 minutes, Pastner was forced to play a rotation of essentially seven players (Tsafack and Drew Barham combined for 17 minutes). Five Tigers played at least 30 minutes, with Will Barton logging a team-high 41.
“There’s no such thing as a bad win,” said Pastner. “The last 17 minutes of the game, we had one turnover. Prior to that, we had 23. This happens. Look at college basketball. Tennessee took a loss against Oakland. For us to find a way to win . . . I’m 33, but my body feels like 88. It wears on you.”
Pastner acknowledged an adjustment forced by the smaller roster. “When we were down 15 in the second half, we went small. Instead of going with two bigs, we put Will Barton at the four. That gave us some momentum, and we made a run from there.”
Carmouche finished with a season-high 16 points and led the Tigers with seven rebounds. Coleman blocked four shots in 22 minutes of playing time and Jackson made three steals in 21 minutes.
Edmondson led Austin Peay (now 6-6) with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
The 18th-ranked Tigers return to action Monday night when they host Texas A & M-Corpus Christi.