Maybe it was the early start on Super Bowl Sunday, but five and a half minutes into the Tigers’ game against Temple only 18 points had been scored and Memphis was up two. A low-scoring slugfest seemed to be on the horizon.
That would not be the case, however.
Memphis (19-6, 9-3 American Athletic Conference) rode the fire of DeAndre Williams, particularly in the first half, and Kendric Davis’ second-half scoring power to an 86-77 win, the second in a row. Strong shooting by the Owls kept them in the game in the first half and they only trailed by three (36-33) at the break.
Temple (14-12, 8-5 AAC) shot 52 percent from the field in the opening half and 50 percent from three-point range.
“You have to contest every shot. If they make them, they make them,” said Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway, giving his take on how to defend against a hot-shooting team.
“They have three of the best shooters in the country. When they are shooting hot, you have to continue to make them take contested shots.”
The Owls had 11 turnovers in the first half, which worked to Memphis’ good.
The Tigers defeated Temple on a last-second shot by Davis in the first meeting this season in Philadelphia. After that loss, the Owls went on a five-game winning streak, including a win at first-place and highly-ranked Houston.
“It was a great win against a really good team,” said Hardaway. “I am glad we came out with the victory.”
For Memphis, Williams hit the first basket of the game. It was a three-pointer and an indicator that he would be a monster problem for Temple. He scored 17 points, along with 6 rebounds, in the first half.
Although Davis had a meager three points before the break, the Tigers benefitted from two big three-pointers from Jayden Harden to keep pace with the Owls.
It was all Memphis for the first 10 minutes of the second half, with the Tigers surging to an 18-point lead (67-49). But Temple was not done.
The Owls went on a 12-0 run, cutting the lead to six (67-61) with 7:57 left in the game. At that point, the Owls were shooting 62 percent from the field and 60 percent from three-point range.
Memphis was up for the fight. The Tigers matched every Temple basket. The duo of Williams and Davis would not allow the Owls to get closer.
Davis finished the game with 21 points and 4 assists. Williams had 26 points and 12 rebounds. It was Williams’ second-straight 26-point game.
Hardaway and Elijah McCadden were Memphis’ other double-figure scorers (12 points).
Memphis shot 56.7 percent (34/60) for the game, including 44 percent (8/18) from three-point range. Temple shot 51.9 percent (28/54) overall, and 50 percent on threes (10/20).
The Tigers forced 16 turnovers and scored 24 points off of them.
Badly outrebounded by Temple in the teams’ first meeting, the Tigers won Sunday’s battle on the boards (28-27). McCadden, who had seven rebounds, put his evolving role and journey with the Tigers in perspective.
“It has been challenging,” he said. “I have grown a lot in the six months I have been here. Penny has coached me hard and has made me a really good player.”
On the play of Williams, head coach Hardaway said, “Wonderful, his best overall game. He could have come out in the second half and try to go for 40. He only took two shots in the second half. He was very selfless in the second half. He was creating for the other guys.”
Reflecting on his second half, Williams said, “I saw them playing me more aggressively and I saw my teammates cutting and I was hitting them. I was more of a threat on offense and it gave my teammates opportunities to make plays.”
The narrative about Williams being unable to control his emotions, becoming a vulnerability for the Tigers and fouling out has given way to a new chapter.
“The games I did foul out, I was emotional and I learned from that,” he said. “I have learned from my mistakes. Each game has helped me grow and to play the right way for us to win.”
Memphis will host the University of Central Florida at FedExForum on Thursday. With the Knights headed for the Big 12 next season, it will be their last visit to Memphis as an AAC opponent. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN+.
The Knights defeated the Tigers in double overtime (107-104) in Orlando on Jan. 11.