The winners of five straight, the Memphis Tigers now have plenty of time to rest, with their next American Athletic Conference game not coming until the weekend when they host the Tulane Green Wave at FedExForum on Saturday (Feb. 3).
Their fifth victory on Sunday amounted to overcoming Tulsa’s Golden Hurricane 80-68 on the road. After a subpar first half, starting point guard Kendric Davis, whose recent play has thrust him into some analysts’ conversation about national player of the year, led Memphis with 26 points.
DeAndre Williams continued a string of strong-play games with a double-double – 17 points, 11 rebounds – along with five assists.
Davis added five assists for the Tigers (17-5, 7-2 American Athletic Conference). He scored 19 points in the second half to help Memphis pull away from a 37-35 halftime lead.
A couple of weeks ago, the Tigers were clearly on the NCAA bubble after a loss at the University of Central Florida. They notched their fourth straight win last Thursday (Jan. 26) against SMU, rolling past the Mustangs 99-84 at FedExForum for their 16th straight home win.
“I am grateful to be the coach at Memphis. We have had some ups and downs,” said head coach Penny Hardaway, who now has 100 wins. “The guys played great. It was a team game. Everyone was connected.”
Against SMU, Davis faced his former team. He had a double-double with 25 points, 11 assists and 7 rebounds. He went into the game knowing it was going to be emotional.
“I went to war with a couple of those dudes,” he said. “Coach called me into the office just before tipoff and told me to settle down. That helped me a lot. I am glad we got the win.
Four other Tigers finished with double-figure points: Keonte Kennedy, 16; Williams, 13 (6 rebounds, five assists); Jayden Hardaway, 12; and Chandler Lawson, 12 (9 rebounds).
Hardaway said Lawson “came out with a purpose to rebound the ball…. I have been challenging him to do that.”
Lawson is adjusting as a spark plug coming off the bench.
“It has been challenging to me, from starting to coming off the bench,” he said. “It has been a learning experience. I see the game from the sideline point of view. I just take what the defense gives me.”
Unofficially, it was victory 101 for Hardaway. A finding from the NCAA investigation into the recruitment of James Wiseman and other players resulted in a win taken away.
The University released a congratulatory Instagram post that featured his son, Jayden Hardaway, along with Alex Lomax, former players Lester Quinones and Precious Achiuwa, and some future Tigers.
“We are winning,” said Hardaway, who wore a blue Tigers cap with “100” on it to the postgame press conference. “We are trying to go 1-0 regardless of how it looks.”
Davis said the Tigers are “getting better each and every game. That is the best thing. He coaches us hard. We have been playing hard. We still have to get Malcolm (Dandridge) and Alo (Lomax) back healthy. That will add to us. Coach should be in the Coach of the Year conversation.”
A Memphis native son, Hardaway noted the rip in the city’s energy with the death of 29-year-old Tyre D. Nichols and a flow of revelations about the police beating that is sending waves of pain through the city and throughout the nation.
“I am always about love and trying to do my part, to ensure we are better than we were,” said Hardaway.
“We are well aware of how our city needs to heal and grow. I don’t want to speak out of turn, but my heart has always been with this city. I know where we want to go and I want to be a part of it. I want to be the blessing to where it goes. I love this city and I came back to make a difference.”