The hits just keep on coming for the Memphis Tigers – and not in a good way.
During shootaround ahead of Saturday’s UConn game, starting forward D.J. Jeffries was seen with crutches. It was later reported that Jeffries will be out for 4-6 weeks with a partially torn PCL.
But Memphis was able to overcome Jeffries absence and pick up their second win in a row, a solid 70-63 win over the UConn Huskies in front of more than 16,000 at FedExForum. The Tigers improve to 16-5 overall and 4-3 in the AAC, tied for fifth in the conference.
Jeffries injury is the latest setback in a season full of them. Jeffries was averaging 10.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. The only other game he missed was the Georgia game, which the Tigers lost.
“He is a huge part of this team,” said Lester Quiñones Jr., who was sidelined earlier this season with injury. “A lot of people just look at his stat line, but he affects the game hugely. He is a hustle guy. Over the next few games, we just have to come together.”
Tigers coach Penny Hardaway echoed the sentiment.
“You have to keep motivating,” said Tigers coach Penny Hardaway of Jeffries injury. “You can’t run out of things to say, because they understand what this is. We have been here before. It is like Lester (Quiñones Jr.) getting hurt (earlier this season).
“Every game is a big game for us. There no more small games for us,” Hardaway added. “You can’t give away games you are supposed to win at home.”
Even with Jeffries sidelined, Memphis opened an early 15-8 lead over the Huskies. That is when the bottom fell out. The turnover-prone Tigers started to turn the ball over, coughing up 15 in the first half. The team is averaging 17 turnovers a game.
The Tigers turnovers were a double-whammy. Some led directly to Huskies layups and others caused the Tigers to lose easy points on breakaways. Memphis went into the half trailing, 31-30.
The Tigers continued to turn the basketball over in the second half, committing four in the first eight minutes. The Tigers were able to retake the lead on a Precious Achiuwa layup with 13:56 left.
“Crazy game, but I am glad we got the win. These turnovers are very disappointing,” said Hardaway. “I am proud of these guys playing a really good second half, despite the turnovers. To have a team to shoot 20 more shots than us and still win by seven points, says a lot about how good we can really be.”
The Tigers came out with great energy to start and finish the game.
“I think the energy needs to be harnessed in certain areas. We got two or three steals in a row and we pushed away,” Hardaway said. “Then we started to throw the ball away and let them back into the game.”
A critical turnover by the Tigers came with just over five minutes remaining, leading to a three-pointer by Alterique Gilbert that cut the Tigers’ lead down to one (55-54). Gilbert gave the Huskies the lead with two free with 4:32 left (56-55).
Achiuwa tied the game with a free throw and Quinones game the Tigers the lead (59-56) on a three-pointer with 3:29 left. Alex Lomax two made free throws with 1:52 left gave Memphis a two-possession lead (61-57).
One of the areas of concern for Hardaway was free throws. They only attempted ine free throws in the win over UCF. Against the Huskies, Memphis 21 out of 27 frees to secure the win.
Memphis used a balanced attack to get the win over the Huskies. The Tigers had four players to score in double figures: Achiuwa (16 points), Lance Thomas and Quinones (14 points each) and Lomax (13 points). Thomas led the defensive efforts as well with 5 of the 10 blocks for the Tigers. Malcolm Dandridge did not score, but he made his presence known early and finished with 2 blocks early for the Tigers.
Quinones has been doing an air guitar motion after every made three-point basket, but on his first one, he did not do the air guitar. He did a fist pump like the one that Kobe Bryant did when he made a big play.
The Huskies were led by Christian Vital with 20 points and James Bouknight with 17 points. The Huskies had 15 steals and had 14 offensive rebounds.
Next up the Tigers will be the Temple Owls. The game will be played on Wednesday, Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. CBS Sports Network will carry the game.