Saturday, January 29, 2011

Marshall 85, Tigers 70

Posted By on Sat, Jan 29, 2011 at 8:17 PM

The Tigers' four-game winning streak came to an abrupt end tonight in Huntington, West Virginia. The Marshall Thundering Herd — a team Memphis beat by 16 at FedExForum on January 15th — took a 17-point lead before halftime and the Tigers never got closer than five points in the second half. The loss drops the Tigers to 16-5, and 5-2 in Conference USA play. It was only Marshall's second win in six C-USA games.

DeAndre Kane led the Herd with 20 points, while both Damier Pitts and Tirrell Baines had 17.

The Tigers missed 15 of 19 attempts from three-point range (with three of the field goals by Drew Barham). Will Barton led the Tigers with 20 points, followed by Tarik Black with 14.

Memphis returns to FedExForum Wednesday night to face Tulsa. Tip-off is at 6 p.m.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tigers 77, UCF 61

Posted By on Wed, Jan 26, 2011 at 10:19 PM

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.

Joe Jackson

“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.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

PREVIEW: Tigers vs. UCF

Posted By on Tue, Jan 25, 2011 at 3:17 PM

Wednesday, 7 p.m., FedExForum

• The Tigers are looking to extend their winning streak to four games, their longest since starting the season 7-0. Memphis has won its only two home games in Conference USA play (over East Carolina and Marshall).

• After starting the season 14-0, UCF has plummeted to the bottom of the C-USA standings, where they are 1-4. After beating Marshall on January 5th, the Knights have lost four straight (Houston, Southern Miss, East Carolina, Rice). Nonetheless, in their first year under coach Donnie Jones, the Knights are on the verge of matching their 2009-10 win total (15).


• A pair of sophomores are the top scoring threats for UCF. Marcus Jordan (Mike’s kid) is averaging 15.8 points per game and Keith Clanton is averaging 15.6. They are 10th and 11th, respectively, on the C-USA scoring chart. Clanton ranks fifth in the league in rebounding with 8.7 per game and third in field-goal percentage at 52.9.

• As a team, UCF ranks fifth in C-USA in scoring with 73.3 points per game. (The Tigers lead the league with 78.1.) But UCF has had the stingiest defense in the conference, giving up only 60.4 points per game. (The Tigers are last in this category, giving up 71.0 points per game.) UCF also paces C-USA in scoring margin at plus-12.8 (the Tigers are plus-7.1).

• UCF had two big intra-state victories before C-USA play started. The Knights beat Florida on December 1st, then knocked off Miami on December 18th.

• The Tigers enter Wednesday’s game tied atop C-USA with UTEP, each team 4-1 in league play. At 15-4, Memphis is one game ahead of its pace a year ago.

• The Tigers have won all eight contests they’ve played against UCF, including a 76-70 win last February. These teams started playing annually when UCF joined C-USA for the 2005-06 season. They had played three times previously, all in the Seventies.

• It’s been a while since Memphis has not had a player near the top of the C-USA scoring chart. But Will Barton is currently pacing the Tigers (12.6 ppg) and ranks 20th in the league. More disturbing may be the fact the Tigers don’t have anyone in the league’s top 20 in rebounding. No Tiger is pulling down as many as five boards a game. Freshman point guard Joe Jackson is fifth in the league in assists with 4.2 per game.

• Wednesday’s game is part of a stretch that has the Tigers playing five of seven games on the road. Their only home games between January 9th and February 11th are the UCF game and February 2nd, when they host Tulsa.

Monday, January 24, 2011

RPI Check

Posted By on Mon, Jan 24, 2011 at 3:10 PM

The wins at Southern Miss and UAB last week were a booster to the Tigers' RPI ranking. At 45, Memphis is now the top-ranked team in Conference USA. Trouble is, the Tigers' remaining opponents are all lower on the RPI chart (thus the Tigers' strength-of-schedule ranking: 73).

After the Tigers, the top five C-USA teams are UAB (53), UTEP (65, and tied with Memphis atop the C-USA standings at 4-1), UCF (67, visiting FedExForum Wednesday night), Marshall (74), and Southern Miss (79).

There's no "good loss" remaining on the Memphis schedule. Even Gonzaga (RPI ranking of 66) is a game the Tigers need to win to boost their chances at an NCAA tournament berth.

A record of 23-9 wasn't good enough last year to earn a bid. So figure the Tigers (currently 15-4) need to win nine of their final 12 regular-season games, then at least one in the C-USA tournament. Such a scenario would put the Tigers at 25-8 (but without a win over a power-conference opponent). Maybe just enough for a dance card.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tigers 76, UAB 73 (OT)

Posted By on Sat, Jan 22, 2011 at 8:47 PM

Memphis-UAB has to be the best lopsided rivalry in college basketball.

The Tigers won their 10th straight over the Blazers, but needed overtime to become the first team to knock off UAB at Bartow Arena this season. Senior point guard Aaron Johnson had a chance to win the game for UAB with eight seconds left, but missed his second free throw after tying the game at 68. A desperation heave by Tiger freshman Will Barton dropped through the net six seconds later, but was waved off when Barton was called for traveling.

Memphis held UAB scoreless over the first four minutes of overtime, taking a 73-68 lead behind buckets from Antonio Barton and Will Barton (and a free throw from Antonio). The Tigers held on despite missing four straight free throws over the game’s final 18 seconds. Jamarr Sanders misfired on a three-point attempt as time expired, the last of 21 such attempts to go astray for the Blazers (they made two). Cameron Moore led UAB with 24 points and 11 rebounds.

Will Barton led the Tigers with 17 points off the bench and his brother Antonio, with 16. Tarik Black added 15 points and Will Coleman 13. Virtually the entire overtime was played with a four-freshman lineup on the floor for Memphis (the Barton brothers, Black, Chris Crawford, and Coleman, a senior). Memphis improves to 15-4 (4-1 in Conference USA play).

The Tigers return home for a tilt with UCF next Wednesday, tip-off at 7 p.m.
(The Blazers will face the Tigers at FedExForum on February 16th.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tigers 76, Southern Miss 75

Posted By on Wed, Jan 19, 2011 at 8:04 PM

If this most mercurial of Tiger basketball seasons takes a turn for the better, we may remember it happened with a game-winning three pointer tonight in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Down by 18 points in the first half against a Southern Miss team that was setting the early pace in the Conference USA standings, Memphis stormed back to win on a trey by junior Charles Carmouche from the left wing with less than a second to play.

Down by nine points midway through the second half, the Tigers found their shooting touch and earned their first road win of the season, even with senior center Will Coleman missing the last seven minutes after fouling out. Freshman guard Chris Crawford hit a pair of three-pointers and Will Barton drained a trey with 3:16 left on the clock to give the Tigers a 69-66 lead.

Golden Eagle guard R.L. Horton sandwiched a pair of field goals around a charging foul he drew from Tiger point guard Joe Jackson, giving Southern Miss a 74-73 lead with less than a minute left on the clock. But Horton missed a crucial free throw with 6.7 seconds left to leave just enough opening for Carmouche to cement his name in the Tiger history books.

With 11 points, Carmouche was one of four Tigers to reach double figures (Jackson had 10, Will Barton 15, and Crawford 12). Overall, Memphis made 9 of 17 from beyond the arc.

The Tigers improve to 14-4 (3-1 in C-USA), while Southern Miss — now losers of 15 straight in this series — drop to 14-4 (3-2). The U of M is on the road again Saturday against UAB.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Tigers 77, Marshall 61

Posted By on Sat, Jan 15, 2011 at 2:29 PM

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.

Tarik Black

“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.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Trade Him!

Posted By on Fri, Jan 14, 2011 at 10:20 AM

A quick thought on the Wesley Witherspoon situation.

Wesley Witherspoon

College athletic programs (basketball, football, volleyball, rifle, whatever) are in an unenviable position when it comes to malcontents or the chronically misbehaved. When scholarships worth thousands of dollars are invested in a student-athlete, a school is committed to that athlete in a way even professional franchises (built around players with contracts, mind you) are not. Because in the NBA or NFL, a malcontent can be traded. With NFL contracts not guaranteed, it's that much easier for a team to tell Terrell Owens (or his ilk) enough is enough. Even when a contract must be eaten to get rid of a player, a pool of replacements exists that is simply not there — particularly midseason — for a college coach.

And the problem is that much more vexing when a college player reaches his junior or senior season, and when the player was counted upon to make a difference (in uniform and out) for the program's development. Sending a new arrival (like Jelan Kendrick) on his way before the air around him grows toxic is one thing. But what to do with the likes of Witherspoon, a player clearly talented . . . and clearly disengaged from his team's mission at hand?

How easy (and convenient) a trade would be. Instead, a cloud grows darker over a team already far short of expectations. Wesley Witherspoon is stuck with the 2010-11 Memphis Tigers, and they are stuck with him.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

SMU 64, Tigers 58

Posted By on Wed, Jan 12, 2011 at 9:00 PM

Moody Coliseum in Dallas is proving to be a house of horrors for the Memphis Tigers. Last season, the Tigers' road winning streak in Conference USA play (dating back three years) ended at the hands of SMU. Tonight, the Mustangs erased an 11-point lead over the game's final 10 minutes to win by six.

Leading 28-14 in the first half, Memphis allowed the Mustangs to go on a 16-4 run before halftime. Then leading 48-37 midway through the second, the Tigers watched SMU reel off 17 straight points. Over the course of the second half, the Tigers missed all nine free throws they attempted.

Papa Dia led SMU with 22 points, while Joe Jackson paced the Tigers with 15. Will Barton was the only other Tiger in double figures, with 10 points.

Memphis, now 12-4 (1-1 in C-USA play), will host Marshall at FedExForum this Saturday. Tip-off is at 11 a.m.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Midseason Report: Four Questions

Posted By on Mon, Jan 10, 2011 at 8:00 AM

After two months and 15 games, there are, to say the least, some concerns about the Memphis Tiger basketball team. For a team sporting a 12-3 record, coach Josh Pastner’s second squad finds itself in somewhat unique crosshairs of criticism. A 20-win season is sure to come, postseason play (NCAA or NIT) all but certain. So what the heck is wrong with this team?!

A few observations, with the criticism in the form of questions:

Can this team play defense?
After allowing Tennessee State to hit 12 three-point shots on January 2nd, Pastner said, “My biggest pet peeve is allowing three-point shots. It’s really not that hard a shot. We have to get in our opponents’ air space.” So how did his Tigers take the lesson? They gave up 12 three-pointers (on 21 shots) at Tennessee. Then allowed a weak East Carolina team to stay alive last Saturday by draining eight treys.

Josh Pastner

Interior defense would be a legitimate concern, you’d think, with Will Coleman and Tarik Black the only real shot-blocking threats. But what’s the problem on the perimeter? Could be a matter, in coach-speak, of “want to.” Wesley Witherspoon and Will Barton have that modern hoops commodity — length — that translates well on both sides of the ball. They, among others, must put forth the effort of invading opponents’ air space beyond the three-point arc.

Is there an offensive scheme? Any?
You won’t see many Tiger possessions with four passes. (They seemed to pick up against East Carolina, but Memphis was twice called for a three-second violation.) Memphis fans need to get used to it. This ain’t Princeton. It’s not a Bobby Knight-coached team. John Wooden’s approach to teaching basketball is an art worth reflecting upon in a museum (or Hall of Fame), but you won’t see it at FedExForum.

This Tiger team is built on freshman athletes. Will Barton didn’t need back screens to score in high school. Joe Jackson wasn’t asked to master the pick-and-roll as he became a McDonald’s All-America at White Station High School. And I imagine the next time Tarik Black is fed the ball in the high post as a tool for attacking a defense will be the first.

With six of the top eight players (counting junior transfer Charles Carmouche) wearing a Memphis uniform for the first time, this is a team still getting used to individual likes and dislikes. The coaching staff is still trying to identify which units work best together. (One question: should Jackson and Antonio Barton ever be on the floor together?) In other words, a young team is evolving. There was a day when fans could close their eyes and imagine how such a team might look in a couple of years, when the Barton brothers, Chris Crawford, Black, and Jackson have had time to coalesce. That, of course, is fantasy now. All five of those players may need three years (at least) of college basketball seasoning. But there’s no chance all five will be Tigers for the 2012-13 season. Reality: the frosh have to gel as an offensive unit for this team to win in March.

Continue reading »

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Tigers 61, East Carolina 58

Posted By on Sat, Jan 8, 2011 at 6:49 PM

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.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tennessee 104, Tigers 84

Posted By on Wed, Jan 5, 2011 at 10:18 PM

This one hurts.

In a game that spoke volumes about the pecking order of college basketball in the Volunteer State, the football school beat the basketball school and made it look easy. On the eve of his SEC-mandated suspension for lying to the NCAA, Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl received the kind of send-off that would make the most respected of coaches get a bit teary. His Vols drained nine of their first 13 three-point attempts, led by double figures merely eight minutes into the game, and scored the most points against a Memphis team since January 30, 1991. (East Tennessee needed overtime to put up 105 that night.)

Wesley Witherspoon was a no-show for the second straight game (1 for 7 from the field, 2 rebounds). Tarik Black had three fouls with eight minutes to play in the first half, and the Tigers allowed their second-straight opponent to shoot 50 percent from the field (and 12 of 21 from beyond the arc). It will be a long climb back to the Top 25 for Memphis with Conference USA play starting this Saturday (East Carolina at FedExForum).

Senior Will Coleman led the Tigers with 17 points and 9 rebounds.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

PREVIEW: Tigers at Tennessee

Posted By on Tue, Jan 4, 2011 at 7:00 PM

Wednesday, 8 p.m., Knoxville (Thompson-Boling Arena), ESPN2

• The Volunteers enter the game with a record of 9-4. After a 7-0 start, UT has lost four of its last six games, including a pair of ugly defeats at the hands of Oakland and the College of Charleston. The Vols took down a pair of Top-10 teams from the Big East: Villanova on November 26th and Pittsburgh on December 11th. Tennessee will open its SEC schedule this Saturday at Arkansas.


• Junior swingman Scotty Hopson paces the Vols in scoring with 16.4 points per game. He had a season-high 27 against Pitt and 24 in the loss to Charleston. Freshman forward Tobias Harris (6’8”, 226 lbs.) averages 15.0 points and 6.6 rebounds. Senior Cameron Tatum is a third threat (10.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists).

• Junior Wesley Witherspoon is looking for a “bounce-back” game, having accumulated more fouls (4) than points (3) against Tennessee State last Sunday. After missing two games following knee surgery, Witherspoon hit only one of five shots against Georgetown, but then erupted for 28 points and 14 rebounds against Lipscomb on December 30th.

• The Tigers have enjoyed balanced scoring, when measured across their last five games. (The goal, of course, being to get such balance within a single game.) Memphis has had a different leading scorer in each of its last five games: Chris Crawford (18 against Austin Peay), Joe Jackson (23, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi), Will Barton (18, Georgetown), Witherspoon (28, Lipscomb), and Antonio Barton (24, Tennessee State). And Tarik Black had a season-high 22 Sunday against TSU.

• Tennessee owns a 13-8 edge in the series, with the teams now meeting for a sixth straight season. The Tigers have lost three of the last four contests, including the epic showdown between the country’s top two teams on February 23, 2008. (In that game at FedExForum, #2 Tennessee beat #1 Memphis, 66-62, ending a 26-game winning streak for the Tigers.) In last season’s game at FEF, UT won 66-59. Witherspoon had 11 points and 7 rebounds in that New Year’s Eve battle. The Tigers are 3-7 in Knoxville.

• In the win over Tennessee State last weekend, the Tigers had 25 assists and only 11 turnovers. This marked the first time in eight games that Memphis had as many as four more assists than turnovers. In eight games this season, the Tigers have had more turnovers than assists. For the season, point guard Joe Jackson has 56 assists and 47 turnovers.

• Tennessee enters the game with an RPI ranking of 40, while the Tigers are ranked 67th (just behind UAB and Ole Miss). UCF (12-0) is currently the highest-ranked C-USA team at 16.

• Wednesday’s game will be the Tigers’ last before C-USA play starts this Saturday (East Carolina, FEF). Last year, Memphis entered league play with a record of 10-4.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Memphis 91, Tennessee State 86

Posted By on Sun, Jan 2, 2011 at 5:47 PM

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.

Josh Pastner

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.

    • Pennyspeak


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