In the latest test of his team’s ability to grade out as a winner in the self-described “tough schedule” head coach Penny Hardaway put together, the University of Memphis Tigers fell to Ole Miss (80-77) in Oxford, Mississippi on Saturday afternoon.
“We just need to execute better,” said Memphis center Malcolm Dandridge, who came off the bench to score 13 points, including a thunderous dunk. “We have all the answers to the test, but we have to find a way to execute it on the court better.”
It was the second straight lost for the Tigers (5-2), who succumbed to an undefeated (7-0) Ole Miss team that fed off of the energy of a near-capacity crowd that rocked The Sandy and John Black Pavilion.
The Tigers, who led at halftime and controlled much of the game, could not close the deal.
“There are no moral victories. I put this tough schedule together,” said Hardaway. “We all have to do better as a group. Coach (Chris) Beard had his team ready. Jaylen Murray and Matthew Murrell had a heck of a game. We have to learn have to how to finish these games out.”
Murrell, who played at Whitehaven High School, had 20 points and connected on 5 of 6 three-pointers, along with 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Murray led Ole Miss with 22 points. He hit on 4 of his 6 three-pointers, which he paired with 9 assists while surrendering a single turnover.
The Tigers scored 50 points in the paint. However, they were only successful on 3 of their 18 shots from beyond the arc while Ole Miss shot 50 percent (11 of 22).
“Some of that is from not closing out properly, which we worked on all week,” said Hardaway of the Tigers’ three-point defense. “A lot of these guys still have bad habits from other teams that they are still trying to get rid of. These are growing lessons. We will keep growing.”
Ole Miss jumped out fast, scoring the first seven points of the game. The Tigers responded quickly with a 9-0 run. They surged to a 10-point lead (19-9) with 12:55 after Nick Jourdain followed up a missed shot.
Murrell brought Ole Miss within a point (23-22) with a triple at the 8:31 mark in the first half.
Memphis’ David Jones scored 16 of this team-high 22 points in the first half. He also finished with 7 rebounds, grabbing 3 in the first half, along with 2 steals.
The Tigers, who led by 7 (37-30) at halftime, had ample opportunities for a bigger lead but were hampered by three shot clock violations and critical turnovers that led to easy Ole Miss points.
With 14:01 left in the game, Ole Miss tied it up on a layup by Murrell. Murray gave Ole the lead with two free throws. Ashton Hardaway pushed the Tigers back head (54-53) with his first points, a three-pointer.
The rivals went back and forth, with the Tigers leading by as many as 4 points but were unable to pull away. Ole Miss outscored Memphis by 10 (50-40) in the second half.
“They (were just aggressive),” Hardaway said, pivoting to an assessment of the Tigers’ second-half offense. “We understand what to do. If I am not calling the play, it is on the point guard to call the play.
“We are not trying to make things up. If it looks unorganized, it is them (Ole Miss) junking the game up and switching everything. …They just played better defense than we did.”
The Tigers had a chance to send the game into overtime with 6.8 seconds to play. Starting point guard Jayvon Quinerly took the inbound pass the length of the court, but his shot was short as time expired.
— The game was the first this season for former University of Memphis player Moussa Cisse, a double-transfer student, who recently was granted a waiver to play this season by the NCAA. Memphis’ Dandridge and Cisse have remained in close contact since Cisse’s departure.
“It was great seeing him. It was great going against him,” said Dandridge. “I am happy the NCAA cleared him. It was a friendly matchup, but we don’t have any friends on the court.”
Cisse had 2 points and 4 rebounds in 15 minutes
— Ole Miss’ first-year head coach, Chris Beard, had plenty of accolades for Hardaway and the Tigers’ program:
“I have a lot of respect for coach Penny. He was one of the best players in college and pro basketball. He has established himself as one of the best coaches in college basketball. Leading into this game they are a top-10 type program.”
— On Thursday (Nov. 30) in a California court, Memphis recruit Mikey pleaded guilty to a felony charge of making criminal threats. The plea agreement ends an assault case against Williams stemming from a March 27 incident at his home, where shots were fired at a vehicle outside his home in San Diego.
Williams’ status with the team has not changed. According to Hardaway, he will speak with Memphis’ athletic director and see what the next steps are for Williams. According to the plead agreement, if Williams completes certain items the charges will be reduced to a misdemeanor when he returns to court in August 2024.
— Next up for the Tigers is another road test as they travel to Richmond, VA to play Virginia Commonwealth University on Wednesday (Dec. 6) at 6 p.m. (CST). The Tigers return to the FedExForum on (Dec. 16) to face the Clemson Tigers at 2 p.m.