The University of Memphis’ two-step through the state of Alabama’s Southeastern Conference (SEC) teams yielded a 1-1 split that – in a best-case scenario – would be a confidence-builder for this year’s Tigers and their aspirations for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Still, it could have been a much better picture, if the Tigers (8-3) had gotten a firm grip on the victory that was within their grasp in Tuscaloosa against the fourth-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide on Tuesday night. They didn’t, losing 91-88 after having beaten then-ranked No. 11 Auburn last weekend in Atlanta.
“I am a little disappointed in our showing…. That is the second time we have given up 90 points in a loss this season,” Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway.
“We didn’t give up and fought back. You have to stay out of foul trouble and rebound at a high level when you are playing a top-five team. These types of games give you confidence. We want to be the best we can be at the end of March.”
At this juncture, the game’s details are best digested as growth points. The Tigers started strong, taking the early lead with 15:44 left in the first half. They held on to it until Alabama’s Mark Sears made a layup up with 8:26 left. Down by as many as six points, Memphis rallied and only trailed 36-33 at halftime.
The Tigers held Alabama to 42 percent shooting in the first half. Memphis only shot 35 percent and missed its two three-point attempts.
Known for being a high-volume, three-point shooting team, the Tide shot 27 of them, connecting on 10 for 37 percent. Meanwhile, Memphis’ Keonte Kennedy made the only three-pointer for the Tigers.
Alabama’s Brandon Miller was a serious problem, hitting on 4 of his 8 shots from three-point range as he scored a team-high 24 points.
“He had one of his best games,” said Hardaway about Miller. “He knocked down some big shots. He is a freshman and you want freshmen taking those shots. He made them, kudos to him.”
More growth points: the Tigers finished the game with a painfully shortened lineup. Malcolm Dandridge’s night was curtailed at 17 minutes by an injury. De’Andre Williams, who was slapped with a technical for arguing a call, fouled out with six minutes left. Kendric Davis ended up with a game-high 30 points, but left in the final minute after landing awkwardly on his ankle.
“When De’Andre gets into foul trouble it is a battle. It is usually against a really good team,” said Hardaway.
“He has got to understand how to control his emotions. The technical was unnecessary. Just keep playing. We can’t win big games with him and Malcolm on the bench.”
Williams finished with 15 points in 28 minutes and was the only other Tiger in double figures.
Memphis and Alabama each scored 55 points in the second half. Every time the Tide would pull away Memphis would reel them back but could never get over the hump.
Damaria Franklin, who got the NCAA’s OK to play for the Tigers on Monday, scored eight points in 18 minutes. He last played of Illinois-Chicago.
“I feel he (Franklin) played a really good game, after not playing for a while,” said Hardaway. “I think that was a great showing for him in his first game.”
The Tigers’ march through the state of Alabama was a subset of Memphis’ five games matched against the SEC. The Tigers are 3-1, with wins over Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Auburn.
Next up Memphis is a chance to beat SEC Texas A&M on Saturday (Dec. 17) at FedExForum. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m.