It was a perfect time for Will Barton to come alive.
After watching a 19-point lead evaporate and the energy from the crowd hit rock bottom, Memphis’ heralded but rarely seen freshman arrived. A barrage of 3-pointers. A steal. A dunk. Just like that, Memphis was well on its way to 94-79 victory over Northwestern State on Wednesday night.
“It felt so good, man,” Barton said. “I knew the crowd, me and everybody in Memphis had been waiting for me to have a game like this. I just had to let it all out after I got it going.”
Barton, who hadn’t played much this season because of an ankle injury and weeks of subsequent missed practice time, erupted for 22 points and eight rebounds. He scored 11 points in a row in a crucial second-half stretch that turned a 61-63 deficit into a 72-65 lead in a hurry.
Wesley Witherspoon finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds, while Barton and freshman big man Tarik Black (nine points, five boards, two assists and a block) provided the spark for an otherwise lethargic Tigers team clearly still a bit hungover from an emotional win over Miami less than 48 hours earlier.
The Tigers (3-0) led 57-44 at halftime, but were outscored 19-4 to start the half. Memphis also struggled defensively, allowing the Demons to shoot 42.9 percent from the field. Will Pratt, Northwestern State’s go-to player, had 23 points and six rebounds.
“I got a little frustrated because I understood the importance of this game,” said Memphis coach Josh Pastner after, in true Pastner fashion, apologizing for slapping the scorer’s table multiple times. “I understood that this could be a trap game. … If you start believing and reading our own press clippings from the previous morning, you can have a hangover.”
“I was trying to get my feet wet and get back to the old me. It was a little frustrating at first. … I needed to get my confidence back up. It was very tough because I missed a lot of practices and a lot of game time, and I think I was playing a little scared.” — Will Barton on his slow start to the season
Missing in action (and from the locker room)
By the time media were allowed into the locker room after the game, Coleman had already left. But what reporters couldn’t get from a face-to-face interview, they got from a single tweet:
“Bout to hang my sneaks up……real talk!!!!” Coleman (@gamuscle0) wrote on his Twitter page.
This post was quickly deleted.
He later posted, “HA!!…and to think I actually said that hahaha…I just got a lil fine tunin to do…;) bout to get on my ishhhh!!!”
Though Coleman’s tweet was just an emotional overreaction, it does help paint an accurate picture of what’s going on in the Memphis frontcourt: Coleman and Angel Garcia are struggling, and Black is taking over.
Coleman played just nine minutes Wednesday, finishing with two points and one rebound. Garcia had nine points and two boards in just 11 minutes.
“I have great confidence in Will Coleman, but production is what it comes down to,” Pastner said. “He’s going to snap out of it. I believe in him. … I know he’s frustrated right now.
“I don’t want to put anything on Will Coleman because I’ve got to look myself in the mirror and see what can we get from me to get him going. On the other hand, he’s got to produce because we don’t have time to wait.”
This Memphis Tigah team has more talent than the Pony! — @FakePeteGillen
The Tigers are struggling so much tonight that Wolo just went to break saying “You’re listening to Tiger Football…” ouch — @MemphisRoar
i cant deal wit the close game all the way over here!dear god:just please give me the ability to come through a computer screen! — @ToTheMackximum (That’s former Tiger Doneal Mack for those who don’t know)
come on big will!!!!!!i told you bout tht weak shit with all those muscles!take them in the rim with you! — @ToTheMackximum
Brandon Harris covers Tiger basketball for Memphis Sport. You can follow him via Twitter @bharris901.
Written by Brandon Harris, Photo by Michael Cardwell.