As the 2011-12 Tigers take shape, maybe depth isn’t the story after all. Two days after a dispiriting loss to 4th-ranked Louisville on national television, Memphis used essentially seven players to hold off sharp-shooting Lipscomb. Senior Wesley Witherspoon played only three minutes (all in the first half) and junior Stan Simpson never got off the bench. With the team’s rebounding struggles, the benching of two forwards may be among coach Josh Pastner’s most distinct messages this season.
“I have a soft spot for our team,” said Pastner after the game. “I like to give a lot of guys minutes. One of my character defects is probably that I care too much. I care about the guys. But I’m also a pretty black-and-white guy. Either it’s against the law or it’s not. And it’s like that with the rotation. I’d rather go with a small rotation if that’s [what’s successful]. And if you’re not in that rotation, you better be ready when your number’s called. You’ve got to get in there and produce. This allows me to have a black-and-white rotation.”
A primary reason the short rotation worked tonight was the combined efforts of sophomore Will Barton (39 minutes of playing time) and freshman Adonis Thomas (36). With 16 points and 9 rebounds, Barton just missed his fifth double-double of the season. Thomas led all scorers with 18 points and also grabbed 9 off the glass.
The Bisons stayed in the game behind the sharp shooting of Deonte Alexander and Jordan Burgason, who each hit four three-pointers. When Martin Smith drained a trey from the left corner with 4:40 to play, Lipscomb closed within three points (73-70). But Chris Crawford banked in a floater from inside the lane and Will Barton connected for three from the left corner himself to extend the lead to eight points with 1:25 on the clock. Crawford finished with 11 points, one of six Tigers to reach double figures in scoring.
Earlier today, Will Barton was named Conference USA’s Player of the Week for the second consecutive week, but he could only shake his head when asked if his team had made progress against the Bisons. “We’ve got to play better defense,” he said. “On the perimeter, inside, everywhere. We’re not talking, going through the motions. I’m very disappointed.”
As for the short rotation, Barton said, “That’s Coach’s decision. I have nothing to do with that. What he says goes.”
Playing just his second game for his hometown team, Ferrakohn Hall came off the bench to score seven points and grab three rebounds in 16 minutes. Starting center Tarik Black scored a season-high 13 points but only pulled down three rebounds. The inability to control the glass continues to vex Pastner, so much so that he asked a media contingent for suggestions after the game.
“We’re good offensively, we’re efficient,” he said. “The biggest thing to come back and bite you is second-chance points. We gave up 13 offensive rebounds, and they scored 21 second-chance points. The one stat we’re behind all our opponents is second-chance points. Tarik and Ferrakohn have to rebound more. And we have to gang rebound when we go small. It’s not effort, because our guys know what to do. It’s just doing it, utilizing their athleticism.”
The Tigers (6-4) next get a rare chance to avenge a nonconference loss when they travel to Georgetown to face the Hoyas Thursday night. Having lost to Georgetown (in overtime) last month at the Maui Classic, Memphis will seek — again — a signature win over a power-conference opponent. Could anger over the earlier loss serve to motivate in the nation’s capital?
“On some level, anger can help,” said Black. “But not too much, or you’ll go out there and play sporadic. If you’re playing off emotion, it’s not necessarily a good thing. You have to play smart, stay out of foul trouble, and don’t make silly mistakes.”