No overtime necessary tonight. Not even one. Six weeks after needing 50 minutes to beat Tennessee (in the Maui Invitational), Memphis took the lead eight minutes into the game at FedExForum and never looked back. With 19 points from Antonio Barton and 18 from Tarik Black, the Tigers extended their winning streak to three games entering Conference USA play and ended a Volunteer streak at four games.
Tiger swingman Will Barton came off the bench for the first time this season, a mild punishment for having been late to a team function. He still played 31 minutes and scored 10 points (though he missed nine of 13 shots from the field).
Having stolen the show in Maui with 32 points and 20 rebounds, UT forward Jeronne Maymon was held in check tonight (9 points, 9 rebounds), as Black stayed out of foul trouble (36 minutes) and junior Ferrakohn Hall was able to start and play 19 minutes. (Hall was not eligible for the prior game against the Vols.) Sophomore guard Trae Golden was the only Tennessee player in double-figures in the scoring column with 22 points.
Sophomore Chris Crawford filled the stat box for Memphis with five points, six rebounds, a game-high five assists, and a game-high four steals.
Antonio Barton acknowledged the charged atmosphere right from tip-off. “It was all the guys being locked in, and coming together for a common goal,” he said after the game. “I came out with intensity, a defensive edge. Everything else will take care of itself. Tennessee has always been a rival, so you gotta bring it all, and leave it on the court. We came out for warm-ups tonight and everyone was hyped.”
There was a brief skirmish midway through the second half after Tiger guard Joe Jackson was knocked to the floor under the basket by Vol guard Wes Washpun. No punches were thrown — thanks in part to an animated Tiger coach Josh Pastner sprinting onto the floor to play peacemaker — and the game resumed after technical fouls were issued to Washpun and Will Barton.
For all the energy in the atmosphere — the crowd of 18,334 is the largest at FedExForum this season — the game was far from elegant. The teams combined to make only 10 of 37 shots from three-point range. They combined for 28 assists and 31 turnovers. This was not the #1 Tigers and the #2 Vols so many remember from February 2008. But it was a decisive win for Memphis, something that has grown all too rare this winter.
“We might have won the rebounding battle,” said Black. “But we still made some mistakes. We have a lot to get better at. We showed that we can battle tonight, though. That we can bang. I think that’s what people have been waiting for.”
Black’s 18 points are a season high and his seven rebounds are his second-most in 14 games. He had five slam dunks, three of them on lobs from teammates. “My expectations for this team are limitless, because we have so much potential,” added Black. “We just have to fulfill it. We stick together, like brothers. We wanted to show we can play hard as a team.”
“I’m very proud of the guys,” said Pastner. “It was a grind-out game. We won a lot of 50-50 balls, and that was the difference for us. I think Tennessee is better than their record [now 7-7]. We’re hoping they win a lot of games in the SEC, because it will help their RPI [ranking].”
Pastner noted the effort of sophomore guard Joe Jackson, who came off the bench after sitting out the Charlotte game last Saturday for personal matters. “Joe was really, really good, and set a great tone defensively. Everyone contributed.” Jackson finished with seven points and four assists in 15 minutes of playing time.
The Tigers (9-5) travel to Birmingham to open C-USA play Saturday night. They’ll return to FedExForum on January 11th to face Southern Miss.
• The crowd observed a moment of silence before the game in honor of former Tiger coach Gene Bartow, who died Tuesday in Birmingham at the age of 81.
• A pair of former Memphis All-Americans were introduced in separate presentations at center court. Football star DeAngelo Williams, who just finished his sixth season with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, was Conference USA’s Male Athlete of the Year for the 2005-06 academic year. Baseball star Chad Zurcher, now a farmhand with the New York Mets, won the same award for 2010-11.