Against Wichita State, the Memphis Tigers showed head coach Penny Hardaway elements of what he knows it will take for the team to consistently turn in great performances.
“Really good first half defensively. In the second half not so much,” said Hardaway after Memphis’ 88-78 win over the Shockers at FedExForum. “We only had 12 turnovers. Which is awesome. We got to the line 23 times. The first half, where I want to be defensively. The second half is where I want to be offensively. If we could merge those, it would be great.”
The challenges to such a merger include managing without a trio of key contributors: guard Alex Lomax entered the arena on crutches, guard Jaden Hardaway is still nursing an injury and Malcolm Dandridge, a force in the middle that the Grizzlies countered on early in the the season, still is out. Dandridge and Hardaway are closer to returning than Lomax.
“I am looking at one game at a time,” said Hardaway. “I understand we are not at full staff. It is next man up. These guys are prepared to go out and win. My mindset is to go 1-0. (Other teams) are not going to feel sorry for you.”
DeAndre Williams, widely viewed as the heart and soul of the team, had one of his best games as a Tiger. He finished with 29 point, 15 rebounds, 2 assists and — importantly — only 3 fouls in 35 minutes. The points and rebounds were his career highs at Memphis.
“I felt it was one of my best performances,” Williams said. “Before the game, I dedicated this game to Chris Simmons who passed away this week. I had him on my mind the whole time. I was going to give it my all the whole game. Coach challenged me as well. I had a lot of fire power to do well.”
Simmons, a UofM graduate, had two stints as the team’s athletic trainer — once under former coach John Caliper and later with Hardaway. He died earlier this week.
“… (M)y mentality was to be laser focused and get rebounds for my teammates,” Williams said. “That is what I did all game.”
Memphis (14-5, 4-2 American Athletic Conference) led by six (36-30) at the half. The Tigers built a 13-point lead (50-37) after the break but the Shockers clawed back into the game and were within one (50-49) with 9:18 to go.
At the five-minute mark, the Tigers had opened a 10-point gap (75-65). Kevonte Kennedy, who had one of his best games as a Tiger, hit his third three-pointer with 3:51 to go, pushing Memphis up by 13 (80-67). Kennedy connected on 4 of 6 from deep and finished with 16 points.
Kendric Davis, the Tigers’ leading scorer on the season, had 20 points and 5 assists. He offered this assessment of Kennedy’s big night.
“It was great seeing the ball go in,” said Davis. “I texted him before Temple and told him all the open shots you get just shoot, if they are good shots. They did not go at Temple, but they went in today.”
Hardaway said Kennedy was very discouraged after the Temple game.
“He got in the gym and worked on that,” said Hardaway. “DeAndre carried us the whole day. He had 29 (points) and 15 (rebounds). Both of those are great stats, but I challenged him to do that. He came out and did that today.”
Next up for the Tigers is a matchup on Sunday (Jan. 22) in Cincinnati. The Bearcats’ roster includes former Tiger Landers Nolley II. The game is set for noon and can be seen on ESPN2.