by J.R. Moorhead
Special to the Tri-State Defender
The University of Memphis Tigers’ much-anticipated rematch with the University of Tennessee Volunteers began with a shocker, even before tip-off Wednesday (Jan. 4) night.
|Will Barton of the Memphis Tigers presses his case for a basket on this play against the Tennessee Vols at the FedExForum on Wednesday (Jan. 4) night. (Photo by Warren Roseborough)|
Memphis sophomore Will Barton did not start the game. Yes, the Will Barton who was riding an eight-game streak of scoring double digits. His absence had something to do with violating a team rule.
No worries, as Barton would end the game over ten points making it nine games in a row and 12 of 14 games this year that he has achieved this feat. It was part of a night during which the homestand Tigers got the job done against the Vols, cruising to a 69-51 victory
The Tigers met their in-state rival before a crowd of 18,394 at the FedExForum. It marked the second time the teams had met this season. Memphis barely escaped with a win in the first encounter by way of a double-overtime thriller.
It was also the 150th game Memphis has played in the FedExForum and fittingly so against such a bitter rival. Memphis boasts an impressive 133-16 record at the FedExForum since the switch from the Pyramid.
Barton has definitely been the most consistent player this year, but Wednesday he wasn’t even the best Barton on the court. Little brother, Antonio, took the spotlight and ran the show for the night, scoring a team-high 19 points (4 of 5 three pointers) and also contributing 4 rebounds and 2 assists.
Tarik Black was also a bright spot in the game for Memphis, playing a season high 36 minutes. Black has been plagued by foul trouble so far this year and it looked like things were going to go much the same when he recorded his first foul within the first 30 seconds of the game. Showing true resolve, Black didn’t receive his next foul until half way through the second half. He ended the game with a season-high 18 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks, flashing what he is capable of when he isn’t in foul trouble.
And although his stats (4 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists) might not suggest it, senior Wesley Witherspoon played 10 great minutes for the Tigers. Whether it was coming up with a big rebound or a quick assist, he helped the team in all the right ways while he was on the court.
All of these factors coming together made it a long night for the Volunteers. Tennessee fought hard and played tough the whole game. Emotions did get the best of a few of the players as there was a tussle after a hard foul late in second half that lead to off-setting technical fouls. But hey, what’s a rivalry game without a near on-court brawl.
Even Coach Josh Pastner seemed a little feisty after the game, as he razzed a few of what he called “radio people” or local talk show hosts for some comments they made earlier in the week.
Pastner also addressed the issue that some people think he should win more games with 6 top 150 recruits on his team. He remarked that all the players in D-1 basketball are good. Further defending his case, Pastner noted that Antonio Barton was only a one-star recruit, pointing out how good Barton has become.
All in all, the Tigers looked as impressive in this game as they have in any game all year. This could be a good sign as Memphis starts its conference schedule later this week on the road against the UAB Blazers in Birmingham.
Memphis’ C-USA title hopes certainly looks obtainable if the team continues to play at this level.
And since the Tigers have yet to post a “signature” win against a top school this season, it seems a conference title is Memphis’ only sure shot at making it to the big dance in March.