“I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘Hey, we got our tickets for Houston,’” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “But we’re a young team. We’re young and immature.”
No. 19-ranked Memphis, (4-0) with three true freshmen in the starting lineup, turned to its grizzled veteran for big plays down the stretch to defeat LSU 70-61 before a strongly pro-Memphis crowd of 7,941 at BancorpSouth Arena.
Junior forward Wesley Witherspoon was 6 for 8 from the floor and had five of his 20 points in a key span in the final minutes as Memphis pulled away.
LSU (2-2) shot just 34.6 from the floor and was never able to get its big players involved in the game.
Starting forwards Storm Warren and Malcolm White – the Ole Miss transfer – combined for just seven points and seven rebounds. Both were on the bench with two fouls before the game was seven minutes old, and both fouled out with the game undecided, Warren with 4 minutes, 29 seconds left, White with 2:23 left.
That had more to do with the bigs themselves, LSU coach Trent Johnson said, than anything Memphis was doing.
“Memphis wasn’t doing anything to make it difficult. The kids have to be able to adjust to how the game’s being called. The aggressiveness was limited. They both had two in the first half. They didn’t do anything. It’s what we did,” Johnson said.
In the absence of Warren and White, LSU got a lift from lightly used reserve Garrett Green who was 4 for 6 from the floor for a career-high eight points, all in the first half as the Louisiana Tigers rallied from a nine-point deficit to build a 34-33 halftime lead.
Frontcourt reserve Eddie Ludwig also added eight points, as the LSU bench outscored the Memphis bench 18-8 over the first 20 minutes.
“LSU came out and punched us in the mouth, but we responded,” Witherspoon said. “Later in the game, the young guys were looking for me to tell them it was going to be all right. I’m not really older ... just more seasoned.”
Pastner said LSU’s post struggles were by design, not by officiating.
“I’m proud of the way we kept their big men off the glass. Their guys off the bench hurt us more than their starters,” he said.
LSU guard Aaron Dotson got in a few punches in the first half too, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers and scoring all 12 of his points then.
LSU freshman point guard Andre Stringer struggled at times to bring the ball up in the first half but righted himself after halftime and finished with a team-high 13 points.
Memphis opened the second half with a 6-0 run to lead 39-34 with 17:22 left. LSU remained in striking distance and took a 57-56 lead on Stringer’s driving layup with 4:48 remaining.
But Warren picked up his fifth foul on the other end, and Memphis tied the game on a free throw by Tarik Black. Memphis then got a defensive stop, and a 3-pointer by Angel Garcia to go up 60-57.
The Tennessee Tigers did not trail again, nor did they coast.
With Memphis clinging to a 3-point lead, Witherspoon drove past Ludwig for a dunk and a five-point advantage.
On LSU’s ensuing trip White worked his way into position for a shot, but he missed and fouled Witherspoon in the fight for the rebound.
Witherspoon hit both free throws, and Memphis led 64-57 with 2:23 left.
“It was nothing Memphis did, it was Malcolm and me,” Warren said. “We were too ready, too overly aggressive. It didn’t dawn on us until we had too many fouls that we needed to slow down, take our time and stop trying to do too much. We needed to just play the game.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or email@example.com.