No disrespect to North Alabama’s Lions basketball team, but they were not supposed to be close to the University of Memphis Tigers at the end of Wednesday’s matchup at FedExForum and they weren’t.
Memphis (5-2) easily outdistanced North Alabama (4-4), racking an 87-68 win that cleared the path for the game most in this area have pinpointed: Saturday’s home game against the University of Mississippi Rebels.
“This was definitely a trap game,” said Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway. “The guys were looking forward to playing Ole Miss on Saturday. …
“I was happy to see we came out and took care of business and (got) some chemistry.”
The Tigers will need good chemistry against Ole Miss (6-1). The two teams almost collided last week during the ESPN Events Invitational in Orlando. And there is the matter of the heartbreaker the Tigers lost to the Rebels last year.
Memphis was a 27-point favorite over North Alabama, with the game competitive early. The Tigers took a 13-11 lead with 13:39 left in the first half and finished it with a 33-17 run.
The Lions posed no threat in the second half. Rather than devoting the half to the reserves, the Tigers used the time to continue to develop chemistry with the first and second units.
The Tigers shot 55 percent from the field and 47 percent from three-point range, connecting on eight shots. Four players totaled double digits: Kendric Davis finished with 18 points; De’Andre Williams contributed 15 points, with Keonte Kennedy and Johnathan Lawson each adding 10.
“We got a chance to stay healthy without banging and bruising,” said Davis, who was named the American Athletic Conference Player of the Week for his play in Orlando. “That tournament hit me hard with the three games in four days.”
Hardaway acknowledged the offensive progression.
“We got a little better today. I feel we are still holding the ball too long. We are going to get there. We are still trying to learn one another. We are still trying to preach the message of moving the ball side to side and attack the paint.”
Daniel Ortiz led the Lions with 16 points (5 rebounds). K.J. Johnson was the only other North Alabama player with double-digit scoring (10 points).
Davis, who transferred to Memphis after earning AAC Player of Year at SMU last season, was asked if it was getting old stacking up AAC honors.
“I wouldn’t say old. You just get one life and you just soak it all in. I am blessed to do it. I don’t (ever) take it for granted. (However), I did not come here for that. I came here to win a national championship.
“I want to win at the highest level. … I want to make it as fun as it can be.”