For yet another game, the Tigers were without a full compliment of players – this time, it was stat-stuffing freshman D.J. Jeffries who sat out against the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday. His absence was felt as the Tigers lost to Georgia, 65-62 in front of 17,272 at FedExForum.
Memphis had plenty of opportunities to get the win. The Tigers hit only 11 of 20 free throws. Also the Tigers couldn’t connect on shots they normally make.
“You obviously want to make more than 11 out of 20 free throws at home – when you lose by four points, when you’re not making them,” Hardaway said. “You want to get to the basket. We did get some good looks.”
It was a seesaw game throughout. Neither team could get any type of separation in the first half. Georgia jumped up to a 10-5 lead to open the game. The Tigers came storming back to take a five-point lead (25-19) with 8:51 left in the first half. The Tigers made five three-ponters, but the Bulldogs also made five three pointers to stay within reach. The game went into the half tied at 37.
Freshman guard Boogie Ellis broke out of a scoring slump by hitting his first three-pointer on his first attempt. He made two in the first half and finished with 10 first-half points. Precious Achiuwa did not attempt a shot in the first seven minutes but heated up quickly and finished with 11 points in the first half.
In the first half, Memphis reverted to a bad habit: turning the ball over – the Tigers had nine turnovers and only seven assists. Six of those turnovers came from the guards. Both teams struggled with turnovers, finishing with 16 each.
Lester Quiñones Jr. got the tough assignment of guarding Georgia phenom Anthony Edwards, projected as a possible No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft later this year. But Memphis held Edwards in check most of the game. He scored on a layup on the opening tap. He also scored on a bad turnover by the Tigers. Edwards entered halftime with six points.
The second half was as hotly contested as the first, coming down to the wire. With seconds to play, Georgia’s Donnell Gresham made the first of a one-and-one but missed the second to give Georgia a three-point lead (65-62). The Bulldogs then smartly fouled Ellis in the backcourt to prevent a three-point play. Ellis missed the free throw attempt, essentially sealing the game. Quinones’ three point heave to tie the game rimmed out.
Edwards finished the game below his average of 8 point only 13 points. Rayshaun Hammonds had 15 points including a big three-pointer late in the game. Donnell Gresham Jr. hit 3 of 6 three pointers. Edwards received some overrated cheers from the Tigers’ student section. Edwards had the last laugh, he waved bye-bye as he left the court.
“We wanted to contain the dribble,” said Georgia head coach Tom Cream. “When we gambled, we didn’t play very well. When we went for steals, we didn’t play well.”
Achiuwa played a game-high and season-high 38 minutes and had 20 points and 15 rebounds. Quinones played 35 minutes and had 11 points.
“I hate playing these five guys the bulk of the minutes,” Hardaway said. “The energy of the game was just never right for us. We went up seven one time, and (by eight) the other, but we were never able to knock them out.”
With the loss, the Tigers end their 10-game winning streak. It was also Memphis’ first home loss of the season.
“This is an experience we need to be in so we can learn for the next time,” said Alex Lomax, who stuffed the stat sheet with 11 points, four assists, four rebounds and five steals. “I have got to find a way to give the ball to Precious and get him going towards the end of the game.”
Next up for the Tigers: Memphis plays at Wichita State on Jan. 9. Tipoff is at 6 pm CT and can bee seen on either ESPN or ESPN2.