“I am savoring every moment of this” is what Penny Hardaway said of his first conference win as head coach of the University of Memphis.
The Tigers (9-5,1-0) defeated the Wichita State Shockers 85-74 in front of a FedExForum crowd of 15,068 on a chilled and rainy Thursday night.
Wichita State’s game plan for victory called for physical play, but the UofM pushed passed that intent.
“We just locked in on defense and we able to get four or five stops in a row, which allowed us to score, because we are a good scoring team,” said Memphis guard Antwann Jones, who had a career night (16 points) and has been steadily improving since he was inserted into the starting lineup.
“I put the work in off the court, so you can see the work on the court,” said Jones. “You haven’t seen anything yet.”
Alex Lomax also had a career night. Lomax scored 8 points and led the team in rebounds (8), assists (5) and only had one turnover. Hardaway took special note of the play of his two freshmen guards.
“This game meant more to Alex, because he signed with Wichita State,” Hardaway said. “Jones is a talent. We have been waiting for him to come around. What a talent. Both of those guys played really well tonight.”
With great outside shooting, the Shockers were tied 20-20 with the Tigers at the 6:34 mark in the first half when Memphis went on a 24-12 run to take a 44-32 lead into the break.
The run was sparked by the Tigers’ defense, which included six steals and eight forced turnovers. The bench of the Tigers scored half (22) of the team’s points in the first half. Everyone that played scored except for Raynere Thornton, who only played three minutes in the first half because of fouls.
The Tigers started the second half slow, hampered by a couple of quick turnovers. The Shockers raced to a 7-2 run to cut the lead to 46-41. Hardaway called a timeout and order was restored. The Tigers responded with a 10-5 run, pushing the lead back to 10 with 12:40 left. They never looked back.
Kyvon Davenport led Memphis with 25 points off the bench and Jeremiah Martin added 11 points. The Tigers only committed 11 turnovers scored 80 or more points for the seventh straight game. The aggressiveness of the Tigers forced 15 turnovers and created 12 steals and the Tigers went to the foul line 31 times.
“It is a great start to get our first conference win,” Davenport said. “We have a feel for the conference. We know there are going to be tough games and tough teams. We can’t take anyone for granted.”
Hardaway made it clear he was not taking anything for granted.
“We have a great league with some great coaches,” he said. “Gregg Marshall (Wichita State’s head coach) you know what his history is and to beat a coach like that feels good.”
On the physical play of the Shockers, Hardaway said, “This is a different Memphis team then they are used to seeing. Last year they had their way with the team physically. They felt like they could just come in here and just beat us up.”
Hardaway was especially pleased that the Tigers were able to take Wichita State’s physicality and give it back.
We want to grow in that area. You have to be a physical team at home and on the road.”
Next up for the Tigers will be a matchup against the undefeated Houston Cougars in Houston on Sunday (January 6) at the newly renovated on-campus basketball arena. Tipoff is 5 p.m., with the game being shown on ESPN News.
The Cougars (14-0,1-0) are ranked 19th in the latest basketball rankings.