People begin to doubt the coach and his authority. They wonder about the players' intentions and whether or not they are capable of coming together as a cohesive unit.
With a new-look starting lineup, the Tigers successfully quashed those doubts — at least for a night — and held Robert Morris to 23.2 percent shooting in a 64-47 smothering of the Colonials Thursday night at FedExForum.
Sophomore guard Antonio Barton also got his first start of the season in place of Chris Crawford, who had been running the point for Memphis. Senior guard Charles Carmouche returned after missing seven games because of a lingering knee injury.
"It was a great collective effort. We all came together and worked hard out there," said junior forward Ferrakohn Hall, who finished with seven points and eight rebounds in his first career start at Memphis. "I feel like that was one of the most fun games I've ever played in my life."
Unlike in recent games, the Tigers (7-5) didn't dig themselves in a hole within the first four minutes mainly due to one of their better defensive efforts of the season.
The largest part of that effort, to Memphis coach Josh Pastner's relief, came from sophomore forward Tarik Black, who had a career high seven blocks. Black has struggled staying on the floor this season due to his frequent fouling, but the 6-foot-8 big man picked up just two fouls in 31 minutes against the Colonials.
With five seconds left in the first half, Black fully extended just past midcourt to intercept a Russell Johnson pass and telegraphed a dart to Adonis Thomas, who converted inside to give the Tigers a 32-18 lead at halftime.
"I think of this game as a foundation. It's a stepping stone for me," said Black, who finished with eight points, seven rebounds, and seven blocks. "Everybody that has their down games, they don't come back out and score 30 and grab 20 rebounds and 11 blocks or something crazy. You build your way up to the stats that you want and the things that you wanna achieve. Right now, that's a good starting game."
The Tigers led 13-7 after sophomore guard Will Barton nailed the first of his five 3-pointers with 10:12 remaining in the first half. He finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds, his fifth double-double in the last seven games and sixth overall.
"This is what I've been expecting for myself when I first walked on the campus at the University of Memphis," Will Barton said. "It didn't quite happen for me my freshman year, so I just had to do a lot of soul-searching. I just looked myself in the mirror and told myself I had to perform better."
In practices this week, Pastner has emphasized valuing each possession, which is hardly a new line for the third-year head coach. But for one of the first times this season, the Tigers seemed to buy in and, as a result, played with a higher sense of urgency.
The Tigers shot 51.1 percent for the game and held the Colonials to 16-of-69 shooting, the first time Memphis' opponent has shot less than 30 percent since Centenary shot 26.1 percent over a year ago.
"I felt overall we did a good job of pressuring their shots, made them shoot contested shots," Pastner said. "I felt for the most part we rotated well and we had good ball pressure. We just had good energy. We did a good job on all areas. That's a big thing."
A quick glance at the stat sheet shows that Robert Morris, which entered the game as the sixth-best offensive rebounding team in the nation, pummeled the Tigers on the glass with 23 offensive rebounds. But that number is mostly skewed by the Colonials' anemic shooting night allowing for more offensive rebounding opportunities.
Still, even with the Colonials' higher-than-usual offensive rebounding numbers, the Tigers won the rebounding battle, 42-39.
"We didn't have carryover in that," Pastner said. "We rebounded pretty well for the first 33 minutes. The last seven minutes, we were poor, absolutely poor in the way we rebounded the basketball. We went back to our old ways."
But in virtually every other facet of the game, the Tigers bucked their recent trends and put together a complete performance against the Top 100-RPI Colonials, who were picked preseason to win the Northeastern Conference.
"No doubt we should've been playing like this the last few games," Will Barton said. "Now we're at a state where we have to do it and we're gonna do it. We're not undefeated, we're not the No. 1 team in the country. No one is scared of us. We have to come out and bring it."