What do the University of Memphis Tigers look like when the team is really showing who it is – defensively and offensively? Take the one-point win (60-59) over Houston at the FedExForum on Saturday night as show-and-tell evidence.
“Amazing game for us, for a lot of reasons,” said Tigers’ head coach Penny Hardaway. “A lot of things we did today we haven’t been doing for 40 minutes, but today we showed who we were defensively and offensively.”
True, the Tigers only scored 60 points against the 22nd-ranked Cougars, but, said Hardaway, “The shots we got were quality shots.”
The Tigers wore their blue road uniforms for the game played out in nerve-wracking fashion in front of 17,735. They started slow, not scoring until 13:39 was left in the first half. The defense, however, was punching back against Houston’s tenacious defense and had only allowed eight points when the Tigers got their first score.
Hardaway attributed the slow start to the nerves of his young players. Steadying themselves, the Tigers caught the Cougars at 10-10 with 9:22 left in the first half on an Alex Lomax layup. Pushing forward, the Tigers’ largest lead of the game (22-14) came on a layup by Lester Quinones.
After the Tigers took the lead for the first time (12-10) on a basket by Damion Baugh with 7:23 left in the first half, they held it until Houston’s Marcus Sasser hit on a three-pointer with 6:59 left in the game.
Malcolm Dandridge was a huge difference-maker for the Tigers, scoring a career high 12 points, including back-to-back dunks on assists from Baugh, who gave himself a new nickname — “Headband 10” — in the honor of Ja Morant (“Headband 12″).
The Tigers only had 8 turnovers in the game and that is the fewest Memphis has had in a game this season.
“Today the team was locked in. Sometimes they get a little wild,” said Hardaway of the turnovers, “They knew how important this game was and they didn’t try a lot of stuff like they usually do.”
Over the last the last five minutes, the Tigers made seven of 8 free throws. Achiuwa made one of two free throws with 28.36 seconds remaining to seal the win.
Memphis’ defense lived up to its lofty pre-game ranking. The Tigers engineered defensive stops on three consecutive offensive series by the Cougars to secure the victory.
“It is not easy to do what he is doing,” Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson of the job Hardaway has done this season. “Especially when you have people looking over your shoulder telling you what you are doing wrong every single day when they don’t have a clue about coaching a basketball team.”
Red-shirt freshman Caleb Mills led the Cougars in scoring, pouring in 21 points off the bench and prompting the Tigers’ coaching staff to employ a defense that came in response to a stretch when he was on fire. Houston’s with 21 points off the bench to lead Houston in scoring. Sasser also was troublesome, scoring 18 points.
Memphis sported a balanced attack. The Tigers had four players in double-digit scoring — Dandridge with 12 points and Achiuwa, Quinones and Harris each adding 10 points.
Next up for the Tigers (19-8, 8-6 American) will be the SMU Mustangs, one of the teams Memphis is trying to muscle out of the way in it’s bid to get one of the four, opening-round byes in the American Athletic Conference Tournament in Fort Worth, Texas.
“There shouldn’t be much motivation (needed) because we had a 12-point lead with seven minutes to go against SMU and gave it away,” Hardaway recalled.
“They went on a 15-0 run in our building, so that’s enough motivation to know what we need to do when we go to SMU. It’s not going to take much for them to get up for that game.”
NEXT: Memphis vs SMU in Fort Worth at 8 p.m. on Tuesday (Feb. 25). The game will be featured on the CBS Sports Network.
Gallery: Photos by Terry Davis