The game was so lopsided — moreso than either of the exhibition games — that the storyline a few minutes into the first half wasn’t about who was on the floor and what they were doing, but who wasn’t and why.
Memphis cruised to its 104-40 season opening win over Centenary without Chris Crawford and Wesley Witherspoon for the first half, and without troubled freshman Jelan Kendrick for the entire game.
Crawford (missed class) and Witherspoon (late to shootaround) were minor violations, while Kendrick’s issue was undisclosed. Whatever it was, though, it was bad enough for Tigers coach Josh Pastner to suspend him for the game and not even allow him on the bench during the game.
And while the other Tigers were putting on an absolute show — 51.9 percent shooting from 3-point range, 25 assists on 33 made baskets, 28 forced turnovers — Pastner hoped his young team got the message.
“We are such a young team that there’s going to be some ups and downs,” Pastner said. “That includes not just on the court, but off the court. That’s where I want to nip it in the bud, so in the later part of the year, there’s no distractions, we’re playing our best basketball, and they understand the culture I want here — there’s no gray area.”
And since Pastner wants no gray area, it should be interesting to see the direction he goes with Kendrick. Pastner didn’t divulge any details of the actual offense or what the consequences would be. He said he’d sleep on it tonight, meet with his staff and “go from there.”
So for now, Kendrick is still on the team. And the Tigers are still just fine without him.
Barton gets some run
Freshman guard Will Barton saw his first action of the season when he entered the game with 3:46 left in the first half, and he looked very much like a player who’s only had about a week of practice under his belt by Nov. 12.
After injuring his knee and ankle during practice Oct. 22, Barton missed practice and even the two exhibition games against Lemoyne-Owen and Christian Brothers. He admitted he was a little winded (read: not in game-shape) while he was on the floor.
Barton was hesitant to really say how far behind he was, but it definitely looked like a lot. He was overly cautious in positioning his feet before shots, and as a result was just 2-of-7 from the field (0-of-5 from beyond the arc) in 15 minutes of play.
“It’s going to be him gradually getting back into the flow of things and learning his job,” Pastner said. “It’s going to be game-by-game with him, and we’ll see how he feels.”
Leading scorer — Antonio Barton?
Even if it was against the likes of Christan Brothers and Centenary, how can you not love what Antonio Barton’s done so far?
He might be star recruit Will Barton’s sidekick little brother, but he’s done everything he can to show that he’s worth the scholarship and deserves some run. He led the Tigers in scoring in the exhibition win over Christian Brothers and led the team again Friday with 17.
He’s played the best defense of all the perimeter players, and he’s displayed a toughness and scrappiness that makes him really, really difficult to ignore.
Crawford showed not only how he can really, really help the TIgers, but he showed that the 2010-11 Tigers have a legitimate weapon in their ability to connect from distance.
Memphis was better from the 3-point line last season, but not much better to the point where it could change the outcome of games. This season, that could be different. The Tigers were 14-of-27 from the 3-point line Friday.
Crawford, who finished with 16 points, was a perfect 4-of-4. Antonio Barton and Charles Carmouche were both 3-of-3.
Memphis kicks off ESPN’s 24 hours of hoops marathon Monday night with an 11 p.m. tip against Miami. An odd tip, yes, but the Tigers said it shouldn’t affect them a bit.
“In summer league, I played ball at all times,” Will Barton said. “Midnight, whatever. That can’t be an excuse.”
To help adjust the team’s body clock, Pastner said the Tigers will likely practice at 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Asked how you prepare your team to play such a fast-paced style team like Memphis, Centenary coach Adam Walsh had a simple answer:
Brandon Harris covers Tiger basketball for Memphis Sport. You can follow him via Twitter @bharris901.