The No. 22-ranked Memphis sent Cincinnati a message on the very first play of the game, when Precious Achiuwa blocked 7’1” center Chris Vogt. The message? It won’t be easy for you on the inside.
And it was tough play from the Tigers that propelled them to a 60-49 win over a highly physical Bearcats team in front of 16,079 at FedExForum.
“We’ve played in enough games where teams have tried to beat us up. None like Cincinnati because that’s their whole deal – to beat you up and grind you out,” said Tigers coach Penny Hardaway. “The team was up for it. We had to protect home court and hit first and keep punching. We knew if we didn’t they would make a run like they did.
“We withstood the run,” Hardaway continued after the game. “I’m proud of the team for not bailing out and not allowing their physicality to push us back. We kept moving forward.”
Memphis forced the Bearcats into four turnovers and had two blocked shots before Cincinnati could score. Memphis took an early 9-4 lead off three-pointers by D.J. Jeffries and Lester Quiñones Jr.
The game was ugly on offense to start. Memphis went more than eight minutes without a basket. But Cincinnati could not take advantage of the Memphis slump. The Tigers went on a 10-2 run to end the first half and took a 31-20 into the half, their largest of the first half.
The Tigers’ defense was key to win. Memphis held Cincinnati to 26 percent from the floor. Memphis also forced eight turnovers, while committing only seven first-half turnovers. And the Tigers connected on 6 of 15 three-pointers.
Isaiah Maurice, who was benched against USF, made his presence felt in the first half, scoring five points to go with two blocks. He also played good defense on Vogt, who was held to only four points in the first half.
Early in the second half, Cincinnati went on a 13-0 run to close the gap to 35-33 with 14:33 left to play in the game. The Bearcats took their first lead of the game on a Jarron Cumberland three-pointer (37-38).
Memphis went on a 10-0 run to take a 47-38 lead and were in complete control of the game until they started committing turnovers. Memphis committed eight second half turnovers for a total of 15 on the night.
The game was still within reach late in the game when Cincinnati head coach John Brannen got a technical foul. Brannen ripped the refs for what he considered a missed foul on a Cumberland layup.
“I felt like there should have been a foul (called),” Brannen said. “I didn’t curse the official. I asked him why I got a technical, but they were going to get a layup anyway. Either way, it was going to be two points.”
The Tigers went on a 10-3 to close the game, snapping a long losing streak against Cincinnati. The Bearcats had won the last six meetings between the two teams.
“Their defense is elite, and they’re one of the top defensive teams in the country,” Brannen said after the game. “That was part of it. Part of it was I played my starters too many minutes. We missed 19 shots at the rim.”
Memphis (14-3, 3-1) moves into a four-way tie for first place in the AAC with Wichita State, Houston and Tulsa.
This was the most physical game that the Tigers have had to face this season. Malcolm Dandridge and Maurice withstood that threat. Dandridge had his best game as a Tiger. He scored just three points, but had four assists and four steals. Oh, and three blocks, too.
“Malcolm had a really big game today,” said Achiuwa, who posted yet another double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. “(Cincinnati) had really big inside presences. He was a big body we need today. He helped me a lot today. I really did not have to (play physical) today. His presence blocking shots helped us to stay in the game.”
Jeffries broke out of his flu slump. He connected on four three-pointers and finished with a team-high 18 points.
“That’s what we wanted. He made six shots,” Hardaway said of Jeffries. “When he comes out aggressive, that helps us. We need D.J. to be aggressive like that every game.”
Quinones was perfect on the night. He made 3 of 3 shots all three-pointers and made all his free throws. He finished with 13 points. Vogt was held under the 13 points average per game and finished with 9 points. Cumberland finished with a game-high 19 points.
Next up for the Tigers will be a road trip to Tulsa on Wednesday January 22 at 8 pm CT. The game can be seen on ESPNU.