The post-James Wiseman era at Memphis is officially underway.
The team faced the Jackson State Tigers Saturday at FedExForum. Memphis was coming off their biggest victory of the season with a 51-47 win over Tennessee. The Tigers opened as a 26-point favorite over JSU. Memphis defeated JSU 77-49 in front of 15,925.
“I am really proud of the team to be (10-1). It is something we imagined, but for it to come true, to go into Christmas break, I am proud of that,” said Tigers coach Penny Hardaway.
Before the game, Penny Hardaway paid tribute to superfan Rodell Boyd. Boyd was a part of the group of Tiger fans that travel to many of the team’s road basketball games. Hardaway placed a basketball and a t-shirt in the FedExForum in Boyd’s season ticket seats.
The Tigers were very sloppy in the first half. Memphis took a 39-28 lead over Jackson State. They could’ve easily had a more sizable lead going into halftime. Memphis committed 18 turnovers in the first half.
Precious Achiuwa was in a zone in the first half. He even hit a three-pointer. He was 6-6 from the field and made his only free throw attempt to lead the team with 16 points. They shot 64.3 percent from the floor and held JSU to 35.3 percent in the first half.
Achiuwa has emerged as the go-to player as of late.
“I am getting comfortable with the system and how college basketball works. I have just been finding my spots,” Achiuwa said. “I already know what I can do. The game has started to slow down for me.”
Memphis’ largest lead in the first half was 16 points (33-17) and was largely built on team defense. Memphis’ defense is the reason for their lead. Isaiah Maurice had three blocks in the first half. Memphis forced 12 turnovers and had 10 steals.
“We have been playing great defensively. That is not our problem,” Hardaway said. “The turnovers and losing the rebounding game has been our problem.”
The start of the second half did not get any better for Memphis on the turnover front. The Tigers committed three turnovers in the first three minutes of the half. The Tigers finished with 28 turnovers in the game. The team record for turnovers in a game happened twice – against DePaul (1991) and against Vanderbilt (2006).
Achiuwa led the way with 20 points and nine rebounds. D. J. Jeffries had another solid game with 13 points and seven rebounds. Jeffries has always been known for his high motor.
“Coming in, I knew I was going to have to bring that high motor that I had in high school,” Jeffries said. “I stuck with that and it has been effective. It helped me during the first part of the season.”
The Tigers forced 25 turnovers and had 17 steals. The points in the paint was just too much for JSU. The Memphis outscored JSU 50-30 in the paint.
Jackson State was led by Tristan Jarret’s 20 points and four assists. He is a junior from Brownsville, TN. Khalil Spencer is a senior from Memphis, played but he did not score. Jackson State falls to (3-9).
Hardaway attributed the turnovers to giving the players the freedom to do what they want to do on the offensive end. The team is being aggressive on offense. That combined with JSU forcing many teams into turnovers led to the high number today.
Everyone who dressed contributed to the win and everybody played more than 10 minutes. Most coaches try to shorten their rotation as the season progress. How the Tigers play may force Memphis to stay with that style all season.
“It is hard to shorten the rotation with a young team. You are putting a lot of responsibility on five or six players,” Hardaway said. “The way we are playing up-tempo, I don’t think you can play your hardest with a short rotation.”
Lester Quiñones Jr. did not play against Jackson State, but he did go through some drills during the pregame workouts. He is expected to dress and to be available next Saturday against New Orleans.
Meanwhile, the team continues to adjust to Wiseman’s abrupt exit.
“I would not say we have moved on, but we are trying to learn and get adjusted to not having James no more,” Jeffries said about the Wiseman situation.
Memphis play again Dec. 28, when they face New Orleans at 12:30 CST. New Orleans athletic department is led by a former Memphis Tigers basketball player Tim Duncan. Duncan is in his first as the program’s Athletic Director.
The game will take place during the football team at the Cotton Bowl. The football game will be shown on two screens inside of FedExForum. The game can be seen on ESPN2.