Landers Nolley II regained his shooting stroke as the Tigers rolled past Alabama's Tide. (Photo: Terry Davis)

With the wheels of the University of Memphis Tigers bandwagon off the tracks for four straight games, the basketball season was teetering dangerously before the team Tiger Nation thought would be showing up this season showed up to derail the No. 6-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (92-78) at FedExForum on Tuesday night.

It was the first time Memphis defeated a top 10 team in nearly 10 years. The Tigers had been 0-8 in their last eight opportunities.

“It was a must-win. We were down in the dumps. We had to figure a way to pull ourselves out,” said head coach Penny Hardaway.

“To come out here and play like this against a great Alabama team …  They went across country to beat a great Gonzaga team and a great Houston team. It was a lot against us and we knew we had to come out and play our best game.”

Jalen Duren showed why he is such a highly-touted pro prospect. (Photo: Terry Davis)

In the wake of the losing streak and amid talk of dissension, there was a players-only meeting.

“What came out of that meeting was hugging, high-fiving and having fun.  No one cared who shot. It was beautiful basketball,” said Hardaway. “It gave me a sense of relief going into the game. This is the first time all year we have seen that in practice. It was a beautiful thing.”

Reflecting on the recent losses to Ole Miss and Murray State, Hardaway said the biggest difference was chemistry.

“Chemistry was on point yesterday and anything that was negative broke to positive. The guys came out of the meeting laughing. I don’t know what was said, but the practice was beautiful. That is what changed.  Everyone that checked into that game wanted to win that game for the city.”

De’Andre Williams and Alex Lomax spearheaded a meeting to hash out any differences they had as a team.

“They needed to do that. That is the DeAndre Williams we had last year and he just hadn’t broken out yet. Today was that day and he played amazing,” said Hardaway.

It was a game that saw guard Tyler Harris launching – and hitting –  shots from near half-court.

“It felt like old times. It took me back to Tyler’s freshman year when he would get hot,” said Hardaway. “He would shoot it from the logo and make it.  When he started to do that, I knew it was our night.”

The victory, said Hardaway, was his biggest as coach of the Tigers.

“I think this is number one. The win in Tennessee was special. This was the next win. It was the end of a four-game losing streak. Kudos to the teams that beat us. They helped us get prepared for this game and will help us get prepared for the Tennessee game (this weekend).”

Williams said the players knew they “had to come together after the losing skid. A lot of things were going on. When I called it, we let everything out. All of our feelings and it was huge.  It translated on the court.”

The key to going forward is to “just stay solid,” said Williams. “We know we are not perfect. Staying together is really huge for us. We are sharing the ball more. We are playing defense more and we will flourish.”

Landers Nolley II showed the shooting touch that had been absent in recent games.

“Yeah, my teammates helped me to get back on track. We just have to build on that.”

As for the weekend game against the ranked Vols, Nolley said, “It is just another game we look forward to winning. We are not going to get caught up in the rivalry. We are just trying to go out there to win a ball game.”

Harris’ hot streak, said Nolley, “felt like we were in a video game. It was like 2K and the whole gym was shaking. I was nervous and I was on the winning team.”

The Tigers’ defense was key.

“We just locked in on the scouting report,” said Nolley. 

“We took their best players out of the game. We tried to force them to their weaknesses. No catch and shoot. Just forcing them to rely on players they don’t normally rely on.”


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