With roster full of inexperienced players, Memphis coach Josh Pastner knows it might take a little while for his team to hit its stride.
If anyone can understand what Pastner is going through, it’s LSU coach Trent Johnson.
In their first game away from the FedEx Forum this season, Pastner’s 19th-ranked Tigers will try to stay unbeaten when they face Johnson’s young team in the Global Sports Challenge on Sunday.
Entering his second season with Memphis, Pastner has just one senior - forward Will Coleman - on his roster, and the team have shown inexperience in the early going.
After blowing out Centenary in their season opener, the Tigers (3-0) shot 33.9 percent as they hung on for a 72-68 win over Miami, a game that ended early Tuesday morning. They had a better shooting performance Wednesday night, but also blew a 19-point lead before beating Northwestern State 94-79.
Memphis allowed the Demons to take a two-point lead with 13:11 remaining, but pulled away again as freshman Will Barton scored 11 straight points off the bench and finished with 22.
Wesley Witherspoon had 14 of his team-best 24 points in the first half and pulled down a career-high 12 rebounds.
“We got complacent,” Witherspoon said. “Once we got the lead, we took our foot off the gas, and we can’t do that. It can’t happen. We got happy with the lead, and we let up.”
Taking a short trip away from home might help the team’s growth as it plays the third of four Challenge games at BancorpSouth Arena in Tupelo, Miss.
“We are 3-0 and I understand there are going to be growing pains,” Pastner said. “What I keep telling the fans is that they are going to have to be patient. We are not perfect right now, and we have a long way to go.”
Waiting for them is an LSU squad that’s also endured its ups and down with a roster that features no seniors and five juniors. On Tuesday, the Tigers had their 82-game homecourt win streak against in-state opponents snapped with a 62-53 loss to Nicholls State.
LSU (2-1) bounced back with a 79-56 win over Tennessee-Martin on Thursday. All five starters scored in double figures, led by freshman guard Andre Stringer’s 15 points in his first career start.
“Before Nicholls State we worked on all the things we work on all the time,” Johnson said. “There is going to be some inconsistencies with young teams and young players, but these kids care.”
Johnson’s team opened the season with an 87-78 victory over Northwestern State on Nov. 12 as Stringer and Ralston Turner each scored 21 points in their collegiate debuts. Like Memphis, LSU took an early 25-9 lead only to see the Demons rally three times before regaining the advantage for good.
The teams have split four all-time meetings with Memphis winning the most recent on Dec. 23, 1992.
Memphis will wrap up the inaugural Global Sports Challenge on Tuesday night at home against Tennessee-Martin.