The final score never really was in doubt as Memphis zoomed past Mississippi Valley State University 94-57 — the first time the two teams had ever met.
For the head coaches — the Tigers’ Penny Hardaway and the Devils’ Lindsey Hunter — the Wednesday matchup at the FedExForum was another line item in their overlapping basketball careers. Both were drafted in the NBA in the 1993 draft.
Hunter, who played at Jackson State University, went to Detroit with the Pistons’ 10th pick. Hardaway ended up in Orlando as the third pick after a trade between the Magic and the Golden State Warriors. On Dec. 12, 1992, the two college stars faced off in a game Memphis won 81-78 as a red-hot Hunter almost engineered an upset.
After each had declared for the NBA draft, Hardaway and Hunter played in the Magic Johnson All-Star Game that was held at the Pyramid and in Jackson, Miss. And bringing the twin narratives forward, their sons — Jayden Hardaway and Caleb Hunter — started against each other in Wednesday night’s game.
“We go way back …,” Hardaway said of Hunter. “I always had much respect for Lindsey. … He’s a tough competitor. He’s in a rebuilding process at Valley and I know he is going to get that program turned around if they give him the amount of time that he needs.”
Memphis improved to 4-2 on the season, dominating a smaller team that could not match the Tigers’ depth. The pressure of the Tigers’ defense did not allow MVSU to get into any type of rhythm and at the half Memphis was up 55-29 lead.
“It was a good game understanding it was going to be more about us than them,” Hardaway said in reflection. “We wanted to see where the team’s focus was going to be in the first and second half. We did better in the first half than the second half. It is something we have to continue to grow from.”
The Tigers’ first half scoring was balanced. D.J. Jeffries led the way with 13 points, as Boogie Ellis and Lester Quinones each had 12. Memphis got a scare when Landers Nolley III took a big fall under the basket, appearing to land on his shooting hand.
Nolley went to the back to get medical attention from the team’s doctor. He would return for the first half but did not for the second half. (He now is expected to play in the next game against Auburn.)
Alex Lomax got the second-half start, dishing out a season-high 11 assists in his best performance of the young season. It was a step up from some dismal play.
“Tonight was an eye opener for me,” said Lomax. “I am getting my head in the right place. I am in a better mental space. I am getting more comfortable, because I am free mentally.”
Five Tigers had double-figure scoring — Jeffries (21 points, 9 rebounds), Ellis (18 points), Moussa Cisse (14 points, 13 rebounds), Quinones (14 points, 7 assists and 11 rebounds) and Malcolm Dandridge with 10 points.
Leaving the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in South Dakota, Hardaway had some harsh words for this team. A players-only meeting ensued to iron out some issues and the Tigers has performed better since then.
“We are growing in the right direction,” Hardaway said. “Before we went to South Dakota there were a lot of question marks and we did not have an identity. We now have an identity. We are going to get after people, we are going to play hard and get after people.”
- Jayden Hardaway got his first career start, taking the place of Damian Baugh, who sat out to rest his back and is expected back in the starting lineup for the next game.
- Memphis will hit the road again to play a neutral site game against the Auburn Tigers (2-2) in Atlanta on Saturday (December 12) at 4 p.m. (CDT). central.
- The game will be shown on the SEC Network.