NEW YORK – No team had ever won the post-season NIT tournament and doubled up by winning the ensuing NIT Tip-Off Classic. Memphis had a shot at that history but could not get it done.
The Iowa State Cyclones (6-0) stood in the Tigers’ way, taking control in the second half and running away with the victory (78-59).
Memphis turned in an ugly performance. The Cyclones had limited its previous opponents to 39.3 percent shooting; Memphis (5-1) shot 35.8 percent and got outrebounded by eight (42-34).
“This was a good, old-fashioned butt whooping,” Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway said. “It was one of those games where they (Iowa State) stuck to their game plan. They ran their offense fluently … and did what they had to do to win the game.”
The Tigers have not been hitting on all cylinders this season, but they have been winning. They overcame foul trouble earlier in the week, beating Virginia Tech to reach the championship game.
The Cyclones only won two games last year and none in its conference. They retooled with a new coaching staff and players and, counting the win over Memphis, already have wins over two ranked teams.
The first half was not a viewer’s delight for fans of either team. Memphis had 11 turnovers; Iowa State had 10. Memphis shot 31 percent and the Cyclones shot 38 percent. Points in the paint was the difference in the first half, the Cyclones holding a 12-6 advantage en route to a five-point (32-27) halftime lead. It was the first time this year’s Tigers had trailed at the half.
Iowa State found its rhythm after the break, becoming the first team this season to shoot more than 40 percent from the floor against the Tigers. Gabe Kalsdcheur, who was a consistent scorer in both halves (13, 17) led Iowa State with 30 points.
The Tigers’ starting five only had 39 points. Landers Nolley II (11 points) and Emoni Bates (12 points) were the only Memphis players to score in double figures.
The beatdown notwithstanding, Hardaway said, “I still love my team and I think we’re going to learn from this. All losses aren’t losses.”
As for takeaways from the loss, Hardaway said, “Everything has to be serious. Everything has to be together and not one-on-one. We tried that in the Virginia Tech game and got away with it, and the way Iowa State was playing I saw that wasn’t going to work….”
The expectation, said Hardaway, was that the Tigers “were going to get into the middle of the paint, kick it to an open teammate and then get back out on the other side, but we never did that all night. I was in shock just watching that we still tried to go one-on-one, one against three.”
The lesson that individual ball doesn’t work may have hit home, Hardaway observed.
“I think tonight they (Memphis players) understand that because I hear the chatter in the locker room now and it took this loss for them to understand that we aren’t just going to walk onto the court and beat people because we have.”
Acknowledging the team’s youth, Hardaway was not pinning the tendency to resort to individual play on that.
“I can’t make any excuses because we know what to do. We’ve been well versed in moving the ball from side to side. I think it’s just bad basketball overall from everybody, not just the youth,” he said.
“We’re getting it done in practice but when the games start it goes out the window and that reflects on me. … It’s the disease of ‘me’ – wanting to get off … and be the guy to take the shot to help the team win, whatever it is – that doesn’t happen in practice because we can stop the play and say, ‘hey, we aren’t doing that,’” said Hardaway.
“I’m not going to blame it on my kids because they can’t do anything without me allowing them to do it and I’m going to get better. Our staff is going to get better and we’re going to continue to push.
“I know this loss cut them deep because they thought we were just going to walk out on the floor and beat Iowa State and it just doesn’t work that way.”
The Tigers move on to two road games against SEC opponents. First up will be a revenge game of sorts against the Georgia Bulldogs on Wednesday (Dec. 1). Georgia defeated the Tigers in Memphis two years ago in the final minutes of the game.
On Saturday (Dec. 4), Memphis makes the short trip to Oxford to take on the University of Mississippi.
The next home game is against Murray State at FedExForum on Dec. 10.