TULSA, Okla – Memphis outscored Tulsa by six points in the first half and lost by one point, which means not enough things went the Tigers’ way down the stretch for them to claim the win on the road.
Playing their first game since Dec. 29 because of coronavirus-forced cancellations, the Tigers (6-5, 2-2) could not withstand the Golden Hurricane (8-4, 5-2) push to victory in the second half.
“We came out like we were ready. We played a good first half. We should have been up more,” said Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway.
“Being on the road playing a good team in our conference, being up six at half time, that was pretty good. But we knew they were going to make the adjustments in the second half and we just didn’t meet it.”
The Tigers, who entered the game 0-5 at the Reynolds Center against current Tulsa head coach Frank Haith, sported a new starting five: Alex Lomax, Lester Quinones, D.J. Jeffries, DeAndre Williams, and Moussa Cissé. It was Memphis’ sixth different starting lineup in 11 games this season. For Lomax, it was his first start since the first three games of the season. Damien Baugh was forced to sit out because of concussion protocols.
Memphis, which led 32-26 at halftime, got hit with a 12-6 Tulsa run in the first five minutes of the second half to tie the game at 38. Memphis responded with a 6-0 run to regain the lead and when Lomax hit two free throws with 7:36 remaining, the Tigers led 49-45.
The free throw line was a difference maker. Tulsa went to the line 26 times, connecting on 15. The Tigers were 9 of 15.
“Tough game, we knew it was going to be a tough game on the road,” said Hardaway. “We came in with a great game plan. About 35 minutes we did really well. Then that five-minute span we just lost it. Same plays they had been running the entire game. They didn’t put in any wrinkles. They just got a little tougher.”
Calling the game “a learning experience,” Hardaway said, “We have to continue to do it together. The time we had off was well spent. We’re not ready to win those types of games yet because you got to be tough, gotta put attention to details, you gotta get stops when you gotta get stops. Guys gotta make shots when it’s time to make shots.”
Tigers did get a productive game from Malcolm Dandridge with 10 points and 10 rebounds. It was his first career double-double and a career high in rebounds. With Cissé struggling to defend the pick and roll, Hardaway turned to Dandridge and got what he said was Dandridge’s best game of the year.
“Next man up; you can’t feel sorry for anybody,” Hardaway said. “You gotta do your job. I was really proud of Malcolm’s performance tonight.”
Memphis was led by Nolley with 13 points followed by Lester Quinones with 12
The offense, however, continues as a source of frustration. “You can’t be four for 15 from three and nine for 15 from the free-throw line. Every game those numbers look like that or worse,” said Hardaway.
Memphis had 21 turnovers to Tulsa’s 14.
“Guys have got to move the ball,” Hardaway said. “When you’re playing against a zone, they’re swarming everything in the paint. They’ve got active hands. … We’ve got to do more of passing the ball and cutting away. …We’re trying to dribble through traffic and that traffic is causing us to make turnovers.”
Memphis is set to host Wichita State (8-3, 4-1) at 6 p.m. on Thursday. The game can be seen on ESPN2.