The term “signature win” is being applied by some to the University of Memphis’ 77-57 win over the University of Central Florida Knights on a rare Sunday start at the FedExForum.
And while the definition of a “signature win” can — and does — vary, a common denominator is that it’s a victory of particular note and one with value down the road.
The Tigers have been looking for a signature win all season. Going into Sunday’s game, the Tigers were 0-6 against teams that they were predicted to lose to. It’s reasoned that such a win bolsters the team’s effort to make the NCAA tournament. UCF was the preseason favorite to win the American Athletic Conference .
“It means a lot,” Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway said in his postgame comments. “They only had three losses coming in. They only had one conference loss. They were coming in here trying to be road warriors. We had to protect home court.”
That task involved executing an effective game plan against the seven-foot, four-inch-tall Taco Fall. The plan was to attack Fall and be aggressive on both ends of the basketball. Hardaway hinted at his pre-game press conference that he might change the starting lineup and he did.
Isaiah Maurice got the starting nod and he was effective against Fall, playing one of his best games of the season. He finished the game with 7 points and 5 rebounds.
The Tigers dominated the Knights from beginning to end, much to the delight of the second largest crowd of the season (17,046).
After shooting a miserable 1 of 23 from three-point range at Temple, the Tigers made 8 of 24 three-point baskets against the Knights.
The Tigers (13-7, 5-2) had the second most rebounds (46) in a game this season, using that force to move into a third-place tie with Cincinnati and Temple in the AAC.
On the rebounding efforts, Mike Parks Jr. said, “The last couple of weeks we have been doing rebounding drills and we are getting the hang of it and we all are crashing the boards.”
Raynere Thornton had 11 rebounds, responding to some specific counseling from Hardaway.
“Coach has been on me about energy,” Thornton said. “He told me to not to worry about scoring and just go after every rebound.”
The Tigers used a balance scoring attack en route to the win, with five players scoring in double digits. Tyler Harris lead the way with 14 points, breaking out of his shooting slump with four three-pointers. Joining him in double-digit scoring were Parks Jr. (13 points) Kyvon Davenport and Thornton (11 points each) and Jeremiah Martin (10 points). The bench of the Tigers contributed 35 points, including Parks’ 13.
“It felt great to see a couple of shots go in,” Harris said. “I have been doing the same thing. Today my shots were falling; it felt great to be out there.”
The Tigers’ turned in one of their best defensive efforts, forcing the Knights into shooting 37.9 percent from the floor (6 of 26 three-pointers) and 16 turnovers.
Hardaway pointed out the defensive play of freshman guard Alex Lomax. When the Tigers substituted and went small, Lomax forced a steal on an inbound play and converted it into a layup.
“The seniors love playing with Lomax, because of his leadership on the floor,” Hardaway said. Lomax finished with 8 points and 3 assists.
“I am really proud of this team for coming out and sticking to the game plan,” Hardaway said. Coach Mike Miller did a hellava job with the game plan. The guys executed it to the fullest. I’m proud of a lot of things on the score sheet, but mainly holding them to 57 points and out-rebounding them by 18 rebounds and to have 21 offensive rebounds”.
Noting the Tigers’ improved shooting, Hardaway said, Hardaway said, “We just tried to take better shots. Shot selection is number one for us. We can get into situations where we feel like we can make anything and we will take anything.”
Back to the idea of a signature win, Harris said, “We feel we have played a tough schedule. We got out there and played with confidence. When we got a little lead coach said just go out there and make a statement. When we were up 20 coach wanted to go up 25.”
Johnny Dawkins, head coach of the Knights, said the Tigers had an answer for every move he made to try and get his team going.
“Memphis played a terrific game. They came out with a lot of energy right from the start. They played with purpose all night,” he said.
“This is one of the best conferences in the country. Everyone realizes that now; the depth of talent in both the coaches and the players. It is going to very competitive. Road wins are tough. When you come into the environment like this, they are playing well with a lot of confidence. We have to grow from this experience.”
Next: The Tigers take a mid-week trip to Tulsa, where they will they to get a rare road win. They face the Hurricanes on Wednesday (January 30) at 7 p.m., with the game set for ESPNews.