The Tigers' new designated rim protector -- Jalen Duran -- blocks the shot of Diante Wood of Tennessee Tech. (Photo: Warren Roseborough)
Terry Davis

If the University of Memphis Tigers reach their ultimate goals of the Final Four and a national championship, the memory of their opening-game win over Tennessee Tech will be little more than a blur.

And while Tiger Nation should proceed with caution, there was enough about Wednesday night’s 89-65 pasting of Tennessee Tech to generate fresh thoughts of the Tigers raising the NCAA Championship banner in New Orleans.

With its talent-ladened roster featuring two players – Jalen Duren and Emoni Bates – on the list of must-see prospects by NBA talent hounds, the Tigers stepped strong into the 2021-22 basketball season.

“Just happy to have the first win under our belt,” said head coach Penny Hardaway. “I am looking to get back into the practice facility to get better.”

Emoni Bates is expected to have the ball in his hands a lot during the Tigers’ hunt for post-season glory. (Photo: Warren Roseborough)

The talent of the Tigers was just too much for the Golden Eagles.

“Duren (Jalen) took away around the basket,” said Golden Eagles coach John Pelphrey. “He is something else. You really have to account for him.

With controlled enthusiasm, Hardaway summed up Duren’s game on defense.

“We switched every pick and roll and dribble handoff; he had to guard a guard the entire game and never got beat off the dribble. We told him to go after every shot-block. If he did not block it, he altered it. You can’t ask for much more.”

Duren put to words what was clear to observers.

“It was a lot of fun,” said the Tigers’ designated rim protector.

“I take a lot of pride in defense, especially coming to play for coach Penny. Just talking to him, he wants me to change shots at the rim. I am going to focus on that.”

Appreciative of his defense, Memphis fans, who dig dunks, went wild as Duren crushed a few.

Oh my! Jalen Duren announces his Division 1 presence. (Photo: Warren Roseborough)

The FedExForum crowd witnessed a complete-game performance by Bates, who treated them to dazzling moves. He made three pointers, connected with some nice passes to his teammates and he was great on the defensive end.

Memphis was led in scoring by Bates with 17 points. Lester Quinones and Duren each had 15 points.

Lester Quinones of the Tigers scores on a three-pointer over Keishawn Davidson of Tennessee Tech. (Photo: Warren Roseborough)

Former Tiger Mamoudou Diarra led the Golden Eagles with 11 points.

“We had some really good moments in the game,” said Tennessee Tech’s Pelphrey. “We weren’t able to score and keep up in the second half.  I thought we missed some opportunities.”

Memphis roared to a 13-0 start using pressure defense. With the talent-difference evident, the question was whether the Tigers would stay focused.

“No disrespect to Tennessee Tech,” said Hardaway, “the guys (Memphis’ players) look at these guys (the Golden Eagles) and say, ‘we are going to win.’ At some point during the game, they just are going through the motions. In the first half we got up, and in their minds it is time to relax.”

The Tigers entered the season ranked No. 12 in the Associated Press poll and No. 16 in the College Coaches poll. They host North Carolina Central on Saturday (Nov. 13), with tipoff set for 6 p.m.

“Starting the season … I am excited about where we are,” said Hardaway, “and what’s to come.”

Memphis coach Penny Hardaway works the sidelines of the Tigers’ home opener against Tennessee Tech. (Photo: Warren Roseborough)