Barton's 23 leads No. 10 Memphis vs Belmont 97-81

BY foxsports • November 16, 2011

Belmont has played two of the top 10 teams in the country in a five-day stretch, and coach Rick Byrd hopes the experience will help the Bruins.

J.J. Mann led Belmont (0-2) with 18 points in the 97-81 loss to No. 10 Memphis on Tuesday.

''I hope we've learned that we can be a really good team,'' Byrd said. ''Today's margin is more than we'd like. I don't think it is totally reflective of the game, but give them credit.''

Ian Clark finished with 16, including 5 of 7 from the field. Kerron Johnson had 13 points, and Mick Hedgepeth scored 10. Johnson and Hedgepeth had eight rebounds each as the Bruins outrebounded Memphis 42-29.

Belmont was coming off a 77-76 loss at No. 6 Duke on Friday. Because of the close game, some thought the Bruins would give Memphis trouble.

But the Bruins missed their first eight shots in the game and shot just 39 percent. Additionally, Belmont had 18 turnovers, seven of them on steals by Memphis.

''I was stubborn about continuing to throw the ball down inside,'' Byrd said of the start. ''Their length and strength just made it hard for our five men to score it in there. Later on, we opened the floor a little bit more and got better looks because we were driving it and kicking it.''

Will Barton scored 23 points for Memphis (1-0), and Wesley Witherspoon added 22 while making all eight of his shots from the field. Joe Jackson contributed 20 points and seven assists, and freshman Adonis Thomas scored 12 for the Tigers. They shot 59 percent for the game, including 7 of 14 from 3-point range.

''I don't know if we can beat them if they are going make the shots they made against us, but they don't always do that,'' Byrd said. ''(Memphis) is just strong, tall and long, and did a great job of playing team defense.''

Witherspoon's play was a pleasant surprise for the Tigers. At times during his career, the senior forward has disappeared. Injuries have limited him, but others have questioned his potential.

''He was an elite-level player today,'' Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. ''I don't think anyone would disagree with that.''

Witherspoon was pleased with his performance.

''It's been a long time since I've been this healthy, and just be able to go out there and perform like I know I can perform,'' said Witherspoon, who suffered through knee problems last season.

Memphis held a 12-point lead in the first half before taking a 46-39 advantage into the break. Witherspoon carried the Tigers offensively by hitting his six first-half shots, including three outside the arc, for 16 points. Memphis would extend the lead to 18 by hitting 10 of its first 14 shots in the second half.

But as they did against Duke, the Bruins wouldn't surrender, scoring 10 straight points after the midway point of the second half.

That brought Belmont within 73-66 with 8:16 left. The Bruins could get no closer as Memphis finished with a 9-2 burst.

Byrd believes the opening season test should help his team as it moves into the season and Atlantic Sun play.

''I hope our team has learned and feels like we belong,'' the Belmont coach said. ''That we can play with anybody in the country. But we have to build on that. We can't rest on that.''

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