Tigers off to good start as they handle Belmont, 97-81

Joe Jackson goes in for the slam

Joe Jackson throws down a dunk in Memphis' win over Belmont - Photo by Justin Ford

The crowd oohed and aahed, screamed with joy and even shed a few tears. They held their collective breaths and stared in awe. Then came the starting lineups.

An energized group of 16,294 was mesmerized by a video intro that head coach Josh Pastner had predicted to media members after the last exhibition game would be the best they’d ever seen. And he was spot on. The FedExForum scoreboard displayed images of Tiger players and teams from past to present – from Forest Arnold to Win Wilfong, John Gunn to Ronnie Robinson. There were images of the iconic Larry Finch, both in his retired number 21 jersey and his suit and tie on the bench. Then there was Keith Lee, Elliott Perry and Penny Hardaway followed by Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts. And after the current core of players finally made their appearance on Tiger Vision, the nearly packed house was primed and ready to go, and probably filled with lofty expectations.  But as hard as it might have been to believe, things were just getting started.

Before you could even blink, Tiger sophomore guard Joe Jackson had buried a three pointer to give the Tigers a double digit lead at 14-4, and it would take Belmont over 6 minutes before they converted their first field goal of the game. If Memphis big men Tarik Black and Stan Simpson hadn’t gotten into early foul trouble, things might well have been worse for the Bruins. Black picked up his second foul just 53 seconds in, and it looked as if Belmont might be able to take advantage of a thin Tiger front line

The U of M then however went on a 13-0 run with 18:53 remaining that lasted until the Bruins’ JJ Mann finally scored at the 13:27 mark. His basket would spark an 8-0 run for Belmont, with Mann scoring seven of the eight points. And with 10:35 left in the first half, the lead had been cut to 18-14.

But Memphis would respond again, this time behind the efforts of senior Wesley Witherspoon, who had one of the finest halves of his college career. ‘Spoon scored seven straight points during a 1:49 stretch midway through the first stanza and finished the half with 16 points, going 6 of 6 from the field, including 3 for 3 from long distance.

But as good as Witherspoon was, Jackson was right there. The lighting quick point guard showed that he definitely belongs at the position as he consistently blew by Belmont defenders and rarely failed to make the correct decision. He also shot a perfect 4 of 4 from the field in the first half as he and Witherspoon accounted for 27 points on 10 of 10 shooting. The rest of the Tigers combined to go only 6-20 (30 percent) before the break.

Nevertheless, the half ended with Memphis owning a 46-39 lead despite being outrebounded 21-15 (including nine offensive boards for the Bruins compared to 11 defensive for Memphis) and Belmont going 15 of 18 from the free throw line. The 7 point cushion was probably a welcome sight considering how close the Bruins had played Duke and with the Tigers top two big men stuck on the bench with foul difficulties.

“I think it was a very stupid foul I got, the first one,” Black said. “I should have just tried to block the shot… but instead, I stood there and tried to take a charge. The refs came to the gym and told us that if you’re inside the circle, you’re going to get a foul. So that was my fault. And once you rack up one, in the ref’s mind, you’re foul prone. So the second one, my teammates told me it was kind of iffy. But if it’s iffy, they’re going to call it.”

Memphis came out in the second half much like they did the first, opening up with a 13-5 run to up the lead to 59-44 with 16:58 to go and would eventually follow that up with a 6-0 spurt to push the advantage to 17, 69-52 at the 12:18 mark of the second half. Belmont later countered with a 10-0 run that would cut the Tigers lead all the way down to 7, but a crowd pleasing alley oop from Jackson to Black with 8:05 remaining tempered the threat.

With 3:45 left to go, the Bruins’ Ian Clark nailed a 3-pointer off a feed from Kerron Johnson to bring Belmont once again within 7 at 84-77, and it looked like a still young Tiger team might wilt under the pressure. But Memphis would weather the storm, allowing only four more points the rest of the way as they buckled down and applied suffocating defense, their superior quickness, length and athleticism eventually just wearing down an overmatched opponent. The Tigers also managed to make the majority of their free throws down the stretch en route to a 97-81 victory.

Will Barton had a solid, if not spectacular game, making runners and key baskets when his team needed them on his way to a game high 23 points, one of four Tigers in double figures. Witherspoon finished with 22 on a perfect 8 of 8 from the field, and Jackson wound up with 20 points and 7 assists compared to only one turnover. The Tigers committed only nine turnovers as a team, impressive considering the breakneck pace at which they played on their way to scoring 97 points (the most since the U of M put up 102 against UT Martin on Nov 23 last season).

Senior guard Charles Carmouche provided a steady contribution as well, filling up the stat sheet with 8 points, 5 assists, 5 steals and 4 rebounds. Freshman Adonis Thomas, after a forgettable first half, wound up with 12 points on 5 of 9 shooting, as he seemed to suddenly adjust to the college game after the intermission.

“In the first half I was just so anxious,” Thomas said. “This was my first ESPN game, the first big game. When I got out there, I was just excited to be out on the court. In the second half I calmed down. I figured out that I needed to attack and play with more confidence and get to the hole. And that’s what I did.”

But the star of the day had to be Witherspoon.

“I was able to get it going early tonight, and guys started looking for me, and I was knocking down shots,” he said.

And with the Tigers primary big men in foul trouble, he knew he had to step up.

“We’re able to do a lot of different things with this basketball team because we’re so versatile,” Witherspoon continued. “We have Adonis Thomas that can slide down and play that four position. He did a great job tonight.”

Make no mistake; this is a big victory for Memphis in a game against a tough opponent that came within one point of upsetting Duke just a few days before. But the win was far from flawless. The Tigers were outrebounded 42-29, including 20-5 on the offensive end. And Memphis left quite a few points on the free throw line, going only 22-34, a 64.7 percent clip. Pastner knows his team can’t afford to simply give away points like that.

“We’ve got to step up and make free throws”, Pastner said. “No question about that. We make 25 every day in practice. Each individual has to make twenty-five. We run, and the only way to get out of running is to make free throws. So we do everything with free throw shooting, we just have to step up and make ‘em.

“And of course we drill on rebounding, but you know, a lot of times we go small, and we’ve got to have everyone get on the glass. We can’t have any leak outs. We have to have all five guys have their feet on the defensive paint, and jumping and getting the ball. Guard rebounds are so critical.”

Still, the Tigers will take this one. If this isn’t the best effort they can produce, what happens when everything goes right on the same day? Periodically throughout the game, Tigers PA announcer Chuck Roberts would address the crowd with an ad that included the phrase, “Follow your Tigers all the way to New Orleans….”

If Tuesday provided any indication, they just might end up there.

Please feel free to comment on this story using the form at the bottom of the page.

Michael Jones is the Tiger basketball beat writer for MemphiSport. You can follow him via Twitter @MemphisMJ.

Photo by Justin Ford.

 

Box score:

Belmont vs Memphis Tigers
11/15/11 11:00 a.m. at Memphis, Tenn. (FedExForum)

Belmont 81

Total

3-point

Rebounds

##

Player

p

fgm-fga

fgm-fga

ftm-fta

off-def

tot

pf

tp

a

to

blk

stl

min

14

MANN, JJ

f

7-15

3-7

1-2

2-2

4

2

18

1

2

0

2

31

45

BAKER, Brandon

f

0-4

0-4

2-2

0-2

2

3

2

0

0

0

0

11

32

SAUNDERS, Scott

c

1-6

0-0

2-2

1-2

3

4

4

0

1

1

0

17

03

JOHNSON, Kerron

g

4-10

0-1

5-6

4-4

8

2

13

6

4

0

3

31

21

CLARK, Ian

g

5-7

2-3

4-4

1-2

3

2

16

1

1

0

0

24

00

LANG, Chad

-

0-0

0-0

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

01

HANLEN, Drew

-

3-7

0-3

3-5

2-2

4

3

9

2

4

0

1

31

02

JENKINS, Blake

-

1-7

0-1

0-0

2-1

3

2

2

3

0

0

0

11

04

MOBLEY, Holden

-

0-0

0-0

0-0

0-1

1

1

0

0

1

0

0

1

05

CAVERA, Seth

-

0-0

0-0

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

11

TURNER, Spencer

-

1-2

1-1

0-0

1-0

1

0

3

0

0

0

0

6

22

CHAMBERLAIN, Reece

-

0-0

0-0

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

1

24

BARNES, Adam

-

1-1

0-0

0-0

0-2

2

1

2

0

0

0

0

6

30

NOACK, Trevor

-

0-1

0-0

2-2

0-0

0

2

2

0

1

0

0

5

34

HEDGEPETH, Mick

-

3-7

0-0

4-6

2-6

8

5

10

0

3

0

1

23

TM

TEAM

-

-

-

-

3-0

3

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Totals…………..

-

26-67

6-20

23-29

18-24

42

27

81

13

18

1

7

200

38.8%

30.0%

79.3%

Team summary:

FG

3FG

FT

1st Half:

11-31

2-10

15-18

35.5%

20.0%

83.3%

2nd Half:

15-36

4-10

8-11

41.7%

40.0%

72.7%

Memphis Tigers 97

Total

3-point

Rebounds

##

Player

p

fgm-fga

fgm-fga

ftm-fta

off-def

tot

pf

tp

a

to

blk

stl

min

10

Black,Tarik

f

2-5

0-0

2-2

0-2

2

4

6

0

1

2

0

13

11

Witherspoon,Wesley

f

8-8

3-3

3-6

3-2

5

4

22

1

1

0

2

28

01

Jackson,Joe

g

6-7

1-1

7-9

0-4

4

2

20

7

2

0

0

33

04

Carmouche,Charles

g

3-6

2-2

0-1

0-4

4

3

8

5

1

1

5

27

05

Barton,Will

g

7-12

0-4

9-14

0-5

5

1

23

3

2

1

0

36

02

Barton,Antonio

-

0-2

0-1

0-0

1-0

1

0

0

3

0

0

0

13

03

Crawford,Chris

-

1-5

0-1

0-0

0-1

1

1

2

1

1

0

0

14

30

Stephens,D.J.

-

0-0

0-0

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

3

32

Simpson,Stan

-

2-4

0-0

0-0

1-1

2

3

4

0

0

1

0

13

35

Thomas,Adonis

-

5-9

1-2

1-2

0-3

3

2

12

0

1

1

0

20

TM

TEAM

-

-

-

-

0-2

2

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Totals…………..

-

34-58

7-14

22-34

5-24

29

20

97

20

9

7

7

200

58.6%

50.0%

64.7%

Team summary:

FG

3FG

FT

1st Half:

16-30

5-10

9-16

53.3%

50.0%

56.3%

2nd Half:

18-28

2-4

13-18

64.3%

50.0%

72.2%

 

Score by Periods

 1st 

 2nd 

 Total 

 
Belmont

39

42

81

Record: (0-2)
Memphis Tigers

46

51

97

Record: (1-0)

 

Officials: Rick Randall, Rick Hartzell, Bert Smith
Technical fouls: Belmont-None. Memphis Tigers-Witherspoon,Wesley.
Attendance: 16294

 

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