Coleman breaks out: Tigers 102, UT Martin 80

There was a reason Will Coleman got an ovation before he played a single minute in Memphis’ 102-80 victory over UT Martin on Tuesday night.

When he entered the game with 10:53 left in the first half — yes, it was that late in the game — fans, teammates and coaches had done nearly all they could do but grab Coleman’s arms and rebound, block and dunk for him. He wasn’t the player who was a force in the paint for Memphis last season and cemented himself in the Tigers’ starting lineup.

This Will Coleman couldn’t rebound, couldn’t be a force in the paint, and subsequently couldn’t give his coach any reason not to take him out of the starting lineup and move him to the end of the bench.

“I told him the other day that he was the 11th man,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “I couldn’t justify putting him anywhere else.”

So when Coleman finally heard his name called with 10:53 left in the first half — well after five other players from Memphis’ bench had been in the game — he saw the message loud and clear: “Produce.”

And so he did, to the tune of a career-high 20 points, seven rebounds and two blocks.

“It feels really good going into Thanksgiving break with this kind of game,” Coleman said. “Not that I didn’t have it, but it lets me know that I’ve still got it, that I’m still here and that I’m still the Will Coleman who’s been here since the second half of last year.”

Albeit against a tremendously overmatched opponent — the Skyhawks had just one rotation player taller than 6-foot-6 — Coleman was a force. Six of his eight field goals were dunks, a couple of which were serious highlight-reel material.

He fought for loose balls, established a presence in the paint, and perhaps more importantly, he finally looked a bit more comfortable and a little less out-of-place while in the game.

Again — this was all against inferior competition. Even Pastner prefaced his postgame comments by saying Coleman still has to produce to remain in the rotation. But Coleman had an added reason — suppose you could call it that? — for the big night.

Bet you didn’t guess it.

“I ate eggs, pancakes, spaghetti with a lot of sugar and macaroni and cheese,” Coleman said. “I usually eat just pancakes.”

Oh, Will.

Bad defense

Pastner wasn’t too happy with Memphis’ defense, and you can’t blame him. The Skyhawks were 8-of-17 (47.1 percent) from 3-point range, and finished 29-of-59 (49.2 percent) from the field.

That’s one thing if you’re in a high-scoring, up-and-down game against a high-quality team, but when you’re playing UT Martin, those numbers can’t be that high.

The Tigers have Wednesday and Thanksgiving Day off and will hold two-a-day practices Friday through Sunday. Much of the time, he said, will be spent on improving the defense and turning up the pressure, especially against 3-point shooting.

Black lays low

Tarik Black logged just six minutes against UT-Martin after sustaining a cut on his leg when he dove out of bounds midway through the first half. He went to the locker room and didn’t warm up with the team before the start of the second half, but it was simply for precautionary reasons.

Black said he could have played the second half if he wanted to. He finished with four points.

Quotable

“Ohio State and Tennessee will be very good, but if (Memphis) shoots the ball like they did tonight, man, I think they can be anybody. I really do.”

— UT Martin coach Jason James when asked about the Tigers’ play (The Skyhawks play the Buckeyes and the Volunteers later this season.)

“If that’s what we need to win, I have no problem with that. I don’t care if I’m the starter or the 29th man off the bench. All of this stuff we’re trying to accomplish is way bigger than me. We’re trying to get a championship, and I truly believe we can get one. Whatever coach Pastner needs from me, I’m going to make sure I do it.”

— Will Coleman when asked about his role of coming off the bench

Twitter watch

Josh Pastner has really stepped up his wardrobe this season. — @DanWolken

Can’t argue with that. Pastner had a little too much tweed and a little too much school spirit last year. Sometimes he came close to the librarian look with a Tigers tie.

Too much, coach. Too much.

To his credit, he’s kept it simple in 2010.

Brandon Harris covers Tiger basketball for Memphis Sport. You can follow him via Twitter @bharris901.

Written by Brandon Harris, Photo by Chase Gustafson.

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