The University of Memphis basketball team returned to FedExForum to face the Bradley Braves Tuesday, sporting a 4-0 record without James Wiseman. And despite some sloppy play, Memphis rolled on to a 71-56 win.
The Tigers got out to a quick start and had a 12-4 lead about midway through the first half. The Braves were scrappy and did not allow the Tigers to pull away. Despite using their superior depth to build an early advantage, the Braves to cut the lead to 16-14 with a little over five minutes to play in the first half.
From there, The Tigers went on a 13-5 run to end the half with a 29-19 lead. Tigers sophomore Alex Lomax led the first half charge with 10 points; D.J. Jeffries added five points and six rebounds.
After halftime, it was all Tigers. The offense flowed better, with Memphis tallying eight second-second half assists. Bradley trimmed the lead to single digits just once in the half, and Memphis won going away.
“This was almost like a trap game with a really good Bradley team, a senior-laden team, with good guards,” said Tigers coach Penny Hardaway said. “They were definitely capable of beating us.”
Memphis had four double-digit scorers for the game. Lomax finished with a new career-high of 17 points. Boogie Ellis finished the game with 12 points and Jeffries and sophomore G Tyler Harris each had 10 points.
Despite the win, Lomax complained about the rebounding disparity. The Tigers were outrebounded 55-47. Bradley also owned the offensive glass with a 23-10 advantage.
“This game was most definitely a terrible game for us,” Lomax said.
Tiger F Precious Achiuwa had his streak of double-double games broken but was a monster on the boards. Achiuwa finished with six points, five blocks and a whopping 14 rebounds.
Late in the game, the Tigers got a scare from Ellis, who took a hard fall, landing on his back. He was grimacing in pain and got up and walked to the bench. He said after the game that he had never had pain like that in his life. No word on whether the injury will keep him out of games.
The normally dominant Tigers in the paint did not exist tonight. The Tigers and Braves had 26 points in the paint. The Tigers did not get the 50-50 balls that were available at a high rate.
“For the percentage they shot from the field and for us to barely win, it’s a little disappointing,” Hardaway said. “But I will take the win at home.”
With Wiseman out, the Tigers have been winning in different ways. Is there a way Hardaway prefers?
“I can look at it many different ways. When adversity hits this team it can bond together,” Hardaway said. “It is boding well for us when those types of games happen, because we will be ready for it. As a coach, you would rather seal the deal and execute.”
It was a homecoming for two Braves: Memphians Darrell Brown Jr. and Antonio Thomas Jr. Brown entered the game with a 14.0 point per game average, but did not score. Finishing with four points and four rebounds. Thomas played two minutes and scored two points.
Before the game, the NCAA dealt Memphis another blow. Transfer Isaiah Stokes was denied immediate eligibility after he transferred from Florida last season.
Next up for the Tigers (7-1) is a rivalry game against former a conference opponent the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers. UAB always gives the Tigers problems, and defeated Memphis the last time they played. Tipoff is at 4:30 p.m. CT in Birmingham on Saturday, Dec. 7.
The UAB game will be the final tune-up game before the Tigers travel to Knoxville to play the Tennessee Volunteers on Dec. 14. The Tigers return home to face the Jackson State Tigers on December 21.