In an effort that brought to mind manual labor on a broad scale, Memphis manufactured an 83-79 win over another SEC foe – this time Texas A&M – at the FedExForum on Saturday night.
“A very gritty win for the team,” said U of M head coach Penny Hardaway. “Guys started falling out. Jayden (Hardaway) first and Alo (Alex Lomax) with the calf and we get two guys to foul out. To beat a team like that is incredible.
“Johnathan Lawson, Kao (Kaodirichi Akobundu-Ehiogu), Elisha McCadden and Damaria Franklin came into the game and just held it together for us. It was one of our best halves this season in the first half, with that group on the floor.”
Memphis (9-3) bounced back after a 91-88 loss to the then-fourth-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. The Tigers finished their run through the SEC with a 4-1 record, with wins also over Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Auburn.
The Aggies made the game’s first basket and held the lead for the first nine minutes. Kendric Davis gave the Tigers their first lead (20-18) with two free throws with 11:11 left in the first half and then turned up the pressure on offense and defense.
After making only one three-pointer in the loss against Alabama, the Tigers connected on four three-pointers in the first half while holding the Aggies to 33 percent shooting. Johnathan Lawson, who did not play against Alabama, hit on each of his three shots from deep in the first half.
Memphis pushed the lead to 13 points (37-24) and led 45-36 at the break. They went into halftime with seven players with at least two fouls.
The Tigers extended their lead to 12 points in the third quarter but Texas A&M, which came out of the halftime break with noticeably more resolve, cut the deficit to 53-50 with 13:07 left in the game. It was the closes the Aggies had been since midway in the first half.
Texas A&M pulled within two points (63-61) on a three-pointer with 9:26 left and Memphis pushed back with a four straight. The Tigers forced three turnovers by the Aggies turnovers but squandered the defensive stops. They went three-plus minutes without a score as the Aggies again pulled within two (67-65) with 4:55 to play.
After an offensive foul on Lomax presented Texas A&M with a chance to take their first lead in the second half at the 3:49 mark, an ensuing basket by the Aggies’ Julius Marble (16 points) did just that.
Memphis did not shoot free throws well in the game, but DeAndre Williams and Davis came up big down the stretch to secure the win. Williams scored six unanswered points during a closing one-minute segment but fouled out and picked up a technical, again.
“DeAndre is a beautiful soul. Sometimes he allows his emotions to get the best of him,” Hardaway said. “He makes some huge plays at the end. We are trying to help him to let him know you can’t overturn the (referee’s) call. He feels bad about it after the game.”
Wade Taylor IV, who made nine of 10 free throws, led the Aggies with 25 points. Texas A&M shot 33 free throws and hit 27 of them.
Davis, who paced the Tigers with 23 points and nine assists, converted 14 of 16 free throws. Williams finished with 15 points, zero rebounds and no assists. points. He fouled out for the third consecutive game.
“That was a gutsy team win,” said Williams. “Our team is getting closer and better as the season goes on. With us having depth, that was humungous.”
The Tigers were dominated on the glass in the second half (22-6) but held the Aggies to only 38 percent shooting for the game.
“It (second-half rebounding) was just not doing it,” Hardaway said. “They have got to put it on their minds. If you want to go far, we are going to have to rebound. We are winning the games most of the time, but these teams are going on another level with intensity and physicality.”
Still, Hardaway was pleased the Tigers were able to close out the game.
“It is so important,” he said, rating Texas A&M as a top-25 team “in my book. They are going to make runs. They were in the SEC Championship last year. They took the lead. Our schedule has helped us to get to this level. The grit and grind inside of our guys shows.”
In the last game before the start of play in the American Athletic Conference, Memphis will host Alabama State on Wednesday, with tipoff set for 7 p.m. The game can be seen on ESPN plus.