Jalen Duren, who is known as Megatron, transforms himself into a wall of defense against Darius Perry of UCF. (Photo: Warren Roseborough/The New Tri-State Defender)
Terry Davis

Unable to play for several games and with the Tigers in need of racking wins, University of Memphis freshman center Jalen Duren was not about to be held back by the rust of inactivity.

“There is nothing to wait for,” said Duren after the Tigers (12-8, 6-4 AAC) drew upon a fortified roster of available players to pound the University of Central Florida (UCF) Knights 88-60 at FedExForum on Saturday.

“We are in a position where we have to get a lot more wins. I am trying to keep moving and working and keep racking up these W’s.”

Injuries, along with COVID-19 health and safety protocols, have contributed mightily to a season that has not unfolded in the positive manner that head coach Penny Hardaway, the players, fans and many basketball prognosticators had foreseen. Against UCF, Duren, De’Andre Williams, Jaylen Hardaway and Landers Nolley II were all back on the active roster. Williams and Duren were in the starting lineup.

“It felt really good to have some bodies back. The guys are a little rusty,” said Hardaway. “It was good to have Jalen, Jayden, De’Andre and Landers back on the floor. It makes our rhythm more dynamic. Their presence was felt on the floor for sure.”

Head coach Penny Hardaway points out some things to Alex Lomax. (Warren Roseborough/The New Tri-State Defender)

Was that the difference in the game?

“For sure,” said Hardaway. “I feel when we are healthy, we are the best team in this league. Our roster is pretty strong. Houston has done some phenomenal things and so has SMU, but we haven’t been at full staff.”

As a team, Memphis went into the game with an extended rest because of the game at Cincinnati being rescheduled. The Tigers last played on Jan. 27, a win over East Carolina.

Memphis, which has played short-handed for the last month, jumped to a 15-3 lead during the first five minutes of the game over the Knights. They led 36-27 at halftime.

The Tigers came out of the locker room in the second half about as cold as the weather outside during the recent ice storm. They did not score in the first four minutes as the Knights cut the deficit to a point (36-35) with 15:58 left in the game.

“We just had to get stops and share the basketball,” said Hardaway. “They made the run because we didn’t get any stops. We were taking bad shots. They were making shots. We called a timeout and clammed that down. We determined what offense we were going to run and shared the basketball.”

With 10:27 left, Memphis had bounced back, extending the lead to 10 points (56-46) and forcing a UCF timeout. The timeout did not matter as the Tigers rolled on to a 32-14 run to end the game.

Josh Minot scores over Darius Perry of UCF. (Photo: Warren Roseborough/The New Tri-State Defender)

The Memphis bench scored 47 points. Freshman Josh Minot led the team in scoring (16 points) and Tyler Harris had 15 points, also from the bench.

Duren was a force, with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. Nolley looked like his old self, with 8 points 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Lester Quinones was the other Tiger player in double digits with 10 points.

The Knights (13-8, 5-6 AAC) were led by Darrin Green Jr. and Cheikh MBacke Diong; each had 11 points. The Tigers’ defense held the Knights to 32 percent from the floor.

Hardaway said it likely would take a couple of games for the rust to wear off of the players that have been out of the lineup.

Next up for the Tigers is another matchup against the Tulane Green Wave, this one at FedExForum. Tulane defeated the Tigers 85-84 in New Orleans on Dec. 29.