Come Sunday, the University of Memphis men’s basketball team will host the Cincinnati Bearcats during a nationally televised game that provides the Tigers with another opportunity to show that they are moving in the right direction when measured by expectations.
Cincinnati (10-4, 1-1 American Athletic Conference) has beaten Georgia, which upset Memphis when the Tigers were ranked in the Top 10. The Tigers (8-5, 2-1 AAC) will be looking to play a more complete game than the performance turned in against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane at the FedExForum on Tuesday night.
Missing highly-depended upon freshmen center Jalen Duren, the Tigers had to hold on to secure a 67-64 win over Tulsa (6-7,0-2). Up by 10 at the half and sporting a lead that reached 18 points, Memphis was a half-court heave away from having to deal with Tulsa in overtime.
While he never said he was angry, Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway noticeably was not talking much during his shortest post-game media conference of the season.
Asked if he was just glad he got a win, Hardaway said, “Yep.”
Memphis got the win, its second in a row, after surrendering the first 10 points of the game to Tulsa. Asked about the bad start and the recovery, Hardaway said, “We got some stops. That is about it, just getting some stops.”
The Tigers’ starting lineup featured freshman Josh Minott, making his first start, alongside DeAndre Williams, Lester Quinones, Earl Timberlake and Malcolm Dandridge.
Defensive pressure keyed a 13-2 run that spurted Memphis to a 13-12 lead after its slow start. By halftime, the Grizzlies were up 35-25. They started the second half with a 6-0 run, building upon their double-digit advantage.
The Hurricanes would not quit, cutting the deficit to 7 points (61-54) with 3:21 left in the game. After Memphis pushed the lead back to 9, Tulsa kept forcing the issue, pulling within 4 (65-61) with 20.7 seconds to go. A Tulsa three-pointer with 2.9 seconds left had the Golden Hurricane within a point (65-64). Nolley followed with two made free throws (67-64), and Tulsa missed on a half-court shot as the clock wound down.
Timberlake and Dandridge led Memphis scorers with 12 points each. Quinones had 11 points and Minott had 7 points and 11 rebounds. Minott and Dandridge fouled out of the game.
Sam Griffin (25 points) and Jeriah Horne (20) led Tulsa.
“It was a tough little win, but it was a win,” said Quinones. “They came back in the end and made it a tougher game than it should have been. … We wanted to make a statement coming into this game. We had some self-inflicted wounds. It allowed them to come back into the game.”
Quinones said once the Tigers learn how to get a lead and build upon it, “… we will be great. We are beginning to get it more, even though it did not show today.”
As for getting to start the game for the Tigers, Minott said, “It has been an unbelievable experience just trying to help my team win. … I don’t really like talking about myself. I am always looking out for other people.
“I understand how emotions are in basketball. You score, you get happy. You get scored on, you get unhappy. My game is to make my team get better. If I score in a big moment, I get happy. If I get the ball to a teammate and he scores, I also get happy.”
So why was his coach unhappy after the game?
“He wanted this to be a statement game,” said Minott. “We were up 18 points and let them back into the game. I feel like coach is unhappy on how it ended.
“It is not the statement he wanted to make. He wanted to blow them out by 40. It is a plus one in the win column.”
(The Memphis-Cincinnati game is set for a 2:30 p.m. tipoff at FedExForum.)
GALLERY (Photos: Terry Davis)