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.