January 02, 2011
The turmoil that so often has engulfed Memphis' season apparently isn't limited to those on the court.
In the wake of a second-half skirmish late in the Tigers' 91-86 victory over Tennessee State on Sunday afternoon, the wife of a prominent Memphis booster was ejected from her courtside seat. According to a Tweet from Penny Hardaway, the woman shouted at Tennessee State forward Kenny Moore to choke on his mouthpiece after he had knocked Memphis' Antonio Barton down, prompting referee Mark Whitehead to order security guards to escort her from the court.
Whitehead probably overreacted by ejecting a paying customer in the final minute despite her enraged pom-pom toss, but it's still hilarious and fitting that this would happen at Memphis.
Everything about this Tigers' season has been chaotic, from the suspension and reinstatement of Will Barton, to the dismissal of fellow highly touted freshman Jelan Kendrick, to the slew of close calls against vastly inferior opponents.
The latest near disaster came Sunday against a Tennessee State team expected to finish in the middle of the pack in the Ohio Valley Conference. Plagued by careless turnovers, poor shot selection and lackadaisical defense, Memphis trailed by eight points on three separate occasions and had to survive a potential game-tying three rimming out in the final 10 seconds to emerge with the victory.
Memphis seemed to be in position to put the game away in the final minute when a skirmish erupted after Antonio Barton was fouled on a breakaway. No punches were thrown, but Memphis' Tarik Black was ejected for leaving the bench and Memphis coach Josh Pastner body-slammed Will Barton against the basket stanchion to keep him out of the fray.
What's most difficult to reconcile about the youthful Tigers is that their immaturity has not cost them in the win column yet. An 11-2 record with losses to Kansas and Georgetown is about what we would have expected two months ago from this freshman-heavy group, yet the level of play has been nowhere near good enough.
The good news is Pastner has three months to cajole Wesley Witherspoon and Will Coleman into putting forth a consistent effort, to help Will Barton make the solid play instead of attempting the spectacular one, and to persuade the whole team to defend with regularity.
Whether or not Pastner manages to accomplish all that, one thing is for sure: Watching the Tigers this season won't be boring.