It wasn’t necessarily the 106-49 final score that was eye-catching in Memphis’ exhibition win over Lemoyne-Owen on Wednesday night — it was how the Tigers got there. Leadership from veteran wing Wesley Witherspoon, an overwhelming rebounding advantage (WHAT?!?), 42.9 percent shooting from the 3-point line and stellar play from a Sun Belt Conference transfer. The Tigers started out nervous and sloppy, but finished strong and assertive.
Oh, and it all happened while a McDonald’s All-American (Jelan Kendrick) and a projected one-and-done freshman (Will Barton) sat on the bench.
“The ref came up me and said, ‘You’ve got a big problem on your hands,'” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “I was like, oh gosh, one of our players said something to them. But then the ref asked me how I was going to find time to play all of these guys. … It’s nice to have that problem.”
It’s a heck of a lot better problem than the ones from last season when the Tigers’ patchwork roster roughed its way through a schedule with little in the way of depth, size or confidence that it could do what Memphis Tiger teams are supposed to do.
This time around, the Tigers looked like they’ve got those problems taken care of. Now, it’s just a matter of finding out who’ll fit into the rotation, who won’t and exactly how good a team this deep can be.
Consider Charles Carmouche, a transfer from the University of New Orleans. Carmouche finished 3-of-3 from the 3-point line with a game-high 18 points. At many times, he was the only player on the floor with any collegiate experience. Carmouche didn’t look thrown off by the pace — not that Lemoyne Owen is really that fast — and was confident with and without the ball.
It showed that even though the Tigers may be stacked at the guard position, it’s going to be difficult not giving Carmouche some serious playing time consideration, especially early in the season.
“I’m just focused,” Carmouche said. “This is my third year of playing. I have the advantage of having some experience with the speed of the game. … We’ll eventually all get it down.”
Wesley Witherspoon looked different, too. Less clumsy, more organized and a lot more like the NBA player scouts envision him to be. He was assertive, dove for loose balls and was the visible leader on the floor as he finished with 12 points in just 15 minutes of play.
Freshman big man Tarik Black — who said before the game he was so nervous he could barely stand up — finished with 15 points and eight rebounds. Angel Garcia, who got the start because he was among the leading rebounders in practice, had 10 points and nine boards. Will Coleman added seven, helping Memphis out-rebound the Magicians 50-23.
“Do I play 10 or 11 guys deep, or just limit it to eight and nine guys?” Pastner said. “That’s a good question. It’s something me and the staff will have to determine.”
Should be fun to watch.