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Thursday, May 30, 2024

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Tigers control Wichita State with ‘D’ and resolve

In a season with challenging twists, the University of Memphis Tigers find themselves in position to knot up advantageous seating in the upcoming American Athletic Conference after a 68-60 win over Witchita State’s Shockers at FedExForum on Thursday night.

Memphis improved to 21-9 and 10-9 in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) with the victory. The top four conference finishers get a bye in the AAC tournament.  If the Tigers win Sunday against No. 21-ranked Houston, they earn the fourth seed.

Memphis coach Penny Hardaway manning the sidelines. (Photo: Warren Roseborough)

“We have wanted to control our own fate from the very beginning,” said head coach Penny Hardaway, detailing injuries and “some self-inflicted wounds in conference” that have affected the Tigers’ ability to exercise such control.

“To be put back in a situation where you can win at Houston and have a first round bye and that win gets you in the NCAA tournament, that is all you can wish for (with what) we have gone through this season.”

The “gone through” happenings include losing the service’s of the nation’s No. 1 recruit (by NCAA suspension and his subsequent decision to leave school and prepare for the NBA), an unfolding investigation and, yes, injuries.

“This is a family and we have supported each other (during) all the things we have gone through this year,” said Hardaway. “We are not going to stop right now.”

The last home game of the season for the Tigers was a white-out affair. Fans responded to the call for them to wear white and the team wore the fan-favorite uniforms that hark back to the Memphis State days.

Once again, the Tigers got off to a slow start, falling behind with a 7-0 run by Wichita State. They recovered thanks to the efforts of the defense and then the offense caught up.  Lance Thomas hit on back-to-back three-pointers to get the Tigers on the board. Lester Quinones followed with a three-pointer and when Tyler Harris added another triple the Tigers had put together a 12-0 run.

Boogie Ellis and the Tigers played with a level of intensity they are going to need heading into the final game of the regular season. (Photo: Warren Roseborough)

The Tigers did not trail again in the first half, taking a 29-24 lead into the locker room. Memphis built a double-digit lead after the break, pushing the lead to 12 (44-32) with 13:55 left in the game. The Shockers got no closer than eight points the rest of the way.

Precious Achiuwa led the way, again, with 14 points and 16 rebounds. It was the 17th double-double of the season for Achiuwa, the only freshman in the country averaging double digits in points and rebounds.

“Precious Achiuwa is a top 10-15 draft pick,” said Greg Montgomery, head coach of the Shockers. “He is a notch above. The guy is a specimen and he really can play. He is a tremendous athlete and seems to be a great kid and plays really hard.”

The Tigers held the Shockers to 34-percent shooting from the floor, forced 10 turnovers and blocked 6 shots. “They are good athletes and they play hard,” Montgomery said of the Tigers’ defense.

Hardaway reflected on Memphis’ defensive effort and performance. “I think it is just the game plan that we come up with. We understand the strengths and weaknesses of each player. We try to put their best players in the worst situation that we can.”

In Houston, Memphis will face a team battling for first place with the Tulsa Hurricanes and the Cincinnati Bearcats. Tyler Harris, who had a season high 19 points, said, “We are going to have a little swagger heading into the Houston game.”

Tracking the Tigers

Isaiah Maurice acknowledges the crowd’s salute on Seniors Night. (Photo: Terry Davis)
  • Attendance: 17,021.
  • It was Seniors Night, with Isaiah Maurice, the lone senior on the nation’s youngest team, getting to start in his final home game as a member of the Tigers. He had two points and one rebound in nine minutes.
  • Lester Quinones had another solid game, scoring 12 points and grabbing 7 rebounds.
  • Hardaway now is one of only three coaches in the conference to have back to back 20-win seasons.

Gallery: Photos by Warren Roseborough

 

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