TAMPA – January 12 was the day every Tiger fan and many in the NBA was looking forward to – the day James Wiseman was supposed to make his return to the Memphis lineup.
Well, that didn’t happen; Wiseman has moved on to other things. But Memphis was still able to get a 68-64 win over the University of South Florida Bulls.
USF entered the game with an 8-8 record and were 1-1 in conference play. Tigers coach Penny Hardaway indicated there would be changes to the lineup and former East High stars Alex Lomax and Malcolm Dandridge were inserted into the starting lineup.
Memphis may have gotten over the flu bug, but the dreaded turnover bug hit them hard. In the first half, the Bulls outscored the Tigers 16-5 on points on 13 Memphis turnovers. The Tigers went into the half with an eight-point deficit (37-29). Memphis only forced five turnovers.
“You have to give the ball up earlier. Guys are dribbling too much,” Hardaway said. “You are putting your head down and going one on one. This isn’t a one-on-one level. Everyone plays help defense.”
Precious Achiuwa’s play has been very consistent. He scored 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Tyler Harris put together another good half of basketball, scoring six points on 2 for 3 shooting. Harris finished with 17 points making 5 of 7 shots and 5 of 6 free throws.
“Tyler has been a big-time player for us for two years,” Hardaway said. “He may be small in stature, but his heart is huge. He is built for big games. He was huge for us today.”
The Bulls came out on fire from behind the three-point line. They made three from behind the line to take their largest lead of the game (50-38). Memphis cut into the Bulls lead (54-50) with 8:10 left in the game thanks to a 9-1 run. As a team, the Tigers shot a blistering 52 percent from the floor.
“We knew we had opportunities (to get back in the game,” Hardaway said. “We were down 18 at Wichita State and brought it back down to six with 3 minutes to go in the game.
“It all depends on the defensive end,” he said. “If we get stops, we have enough offense to get good looks at the basket.”
The Tigers tied the game on two free throws by Harris (58-58) with 5:28 left, giving them their first lead since about midway through the first half. Memphis took the lead (61-60) on an Achiuwa basket and free throw with 3:01 left.
The Tigers just took control of the game, only allowing the Bulls four points the rest of the way. A dunk by Achiuwa with 1:39 left sealed the game for Memphis.
Lester Quinones has regained his form. He finished with 13 points. He made three of six shots including 2 of 4 from three-point range. Achiuwa finished with 22 and 11 rebounds, his ninth double-double of the season and fifth in a row.
“We started to execute our offense. We got some stops in the end,” Hardaway said on the comeback effort.
Next up for the Tigers (13-3, 2-1) will be a home game against AAC rival Cincinnati Bearcats.
“There are no easy games. Everybody has filled their rosters with players,” Hardaway said. “Every game in this league is going to be a tough game at home and on the road.”
Memphis vs. Cincinnati tips off at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 16 at FedExForum.