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After ‘one of the worst games of the year,’ what’s next for the Tigers?

Amid the swirl of Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway’s expletive-accented postgame comments following Thursday’s 70-62 loss to SMU, senior guard Alex Lomax provided an example of the mindset the Tigers will need to squeeze satisfaction out of a season gone sour.

Returning to the active-player mix after being sidelined for five games with an ankle injury, Lomax put the Tigers’ wire-to-wire loss to SMU (14-4, 5-1 AAC) and the remainder of Memphis’ 2021-22 season in a matter-of-fact context.

“Just to get back out there felt good, to be out there with my brothers. When you lose, it don’t feel good at all. It is not where I want to be,” said Lomax, who came off the bench to contribute 5 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 steals, 1 block and only 1 turnover in 26 minutes.

“What happened today, will be over today. Tomorrow is a new day. We have to correct our mistakes and stay positive. … It (finding positive energy) comes from me and other veterans. We have got to keep the freshmen engaged.

“We have three seasons – the non-conference, the conference and the postseason. I know it is a long season to go. Anything is possible. We have the team to make something happen. We preach to the young guys to stay positive and stay in the gym.”

Alex Lomax (right) has the attention of the Tigers on the floor. (Photo: Terry Davis/The New Tri-State Defender)

The shorthanded Tigers (9-8, 3-4 AAC) took to the FedExForum court without De’Andre Williams, Landers Nolley II and Jayden Hardaway. Along with team veteran Lester Quinones, the Tigers’ starting lineup featured four freshmen. Memphis was six minutes into the game before anyone scored a point for the Tigers.

Down 16-2 with 11:02 to play in the first half, Memphis got the deficit down to 11 (32-11) at the half. Starting the second half with a 6-0 run, the Tigers closed the gap to 34-32 with 14:59 left in the game. That is as close as they got the rest of the way.

After the game, a local sports columnist asked Hardaway if he had lost faith that he could get the job done and whether the results thus far were embarrassing. Hardaway’s response became national sports news and social media fodder.

Penny Hardaway looks on from the sidelines in a game that the Tigers trailed from wire to wire en route to losing to SMU. (Photo: Terry Davis/The New Tri-State Defender)

“The one thing I can say to this media is that it gets f….. up sometimes when it comes to me. We don’t have our full roster. Y’all know we don’t have a full roster. Stop asking me stupid f…… questions, if I feel like I can do something. If I had my roster like they did, I feel like I can do whatever I want to do.

“I am coaching really hard. The boys are playing really hard. I am not embarrassed about nothing. We had four freshmen starting. Y’all need to act like it. We have 17, 18 and 19-year-olds out here trying to learn how to play against 22, 23 and 24-year-old guys. Stop disrespecting me bro. Don’t do that. I work to f….. hard.  I work way too hard for that. Y’all write all these bullshit articles about me and all I do is work. I got young kids on the floor.”

The Tigers were led by Tyler Harris with 17 points. Freshman Jalen Duren was the only other Tiger in double-digit scoring with 11 points.

“This is one of the worst games of the year,” said Hardaway. “We could not get anything going offensively. We played poor defense in the first half. We went to a triangle in two in the second half. We got the game within two, it went downhill from there. We didn’t get the job done tonight.  It really sucks. We really prepare for these games and seeing how we are putting out. I have to stay at the drawing board and I have to keep pushing and fighting. That is all I know.”

On the mood of the team, Hardaway said, “It is down, because this is not what we were expecting. Experience is everything.  When you are playing against older guys you have to come with a different mindset. We are starting four freshmen and we have to because guys are injured. I don’t like to get out of character, but we are hurt. Our roster is depleted of guys that can make a difference.”

And to the degree there was a bright spot, Hardaway said, “Alex (Lomax) did great with being out a long time. I really did not want to play him that many minutes, but we got desperate. When he was on the floor things were going great. He did a great job defensively. When he came out of the game, we got younger. You can’t blame these young guys.”

NEXT

The Tigers will be in Tulsa on Sunday to play the Golden Hurricane, with tipoff set for 2:30 p.m.

On Thursday (Jan. 27), Memphis will host East Carolina in a game scheduled for 8 p.m. on ESPN 2.

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