With three key players on the bench in first-half foul trouble, Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway went against the coaching grain to address a deficit that had reached as much as eight-points deep.
The result he reaped steadied the Tigers (16-9, 10-5 American Athletic Conference) and paved the way for a second-half, game-winning performance (78-64) against the Temple Owls (15-10, 8-6 AAC) at FedExForum on Thursday night.
“We played a really good game and a good team,” Hardaway said. “They came out hot … early and we were a little flat. We finally gained our composure and pushed it … to get a most important win.”
The Tigers – thanks largely to a dominating game from the jump by freshman center Jalen Duren – improved to 6-1 in February, keeping their hopes for an at-large NCAA tournament berth largely in their hands. With one game left in the month, Memphis has won seven of its last eight games. Without February success you can’t have March Madness, Hardaway recalled former Tulane coach Perry Clark say on a recent telecast.
Three key Tigers – De’Andre Williams, Landers Nolley and Lester Quinones – went to the bench with each having committed two fouls. Most often when a player gets two fouls in the first half they go to the bench and stay there until the second half. Not wanting the game to get away from him, Hardaway brought each player back before the halftime break.
The move worked, with Memphis ahead a point (33-32) going into the locker room.
The Tigers controlled the second half, building a lead that the Owls could not overcome. Memphis led by 19 points with 6:35 left in the game.
Saddled with his two fouls, Williams rallied, accounting for six points, an assist and adding two blocks to his post-second foul performance. He finished with 19 points, 9 rebounds.
Nolley went scoreless in the first half but he racked two timely rebounds and found the range for 12 points after halftime. Quinones, who ended the night with 9 points, grabbed four of his five total rebounds in the first half.
Temple opted to guard Duren with one player early in the opening half and he took advantage of that, scoring 17 of his 22 points, including all seven of his first-half free throws.
“Maybe they thought they could play him one on one but they had to start to double team,” Hardaway said. “He started making plays from the post so he was getting fouled … it definitely made them adjust in the second half on how they were playing him.”
Duren, said, “I feel like most of the teams we played before now doubled me. So, seeing one guy on me, with the confidence I have, I don’t think one player can stop me. When I saw the one man, I knew I had to dominate. Coach (Hardaway) said if they do that, you have to dominate.”
Williams noted Duren’s growth over the course of the season.
“He is just going to keep getting better. He does a lot of things. He gets rebounds and blocked shots,” said Williams. “When he does that, it elevates the team and me.”
Looking back on the Tigers’ slow start and his first-half foul trouble, Williams said, “We knew we had to win the game. We just buckled down and locked into the game plan.
“I just kept a positive mindset. knew my shot wasn’t falling. I just told myself, I was going to go after every rebound and play defense. When I did that, I started getting going….”
The Owls were led by Jahlil White’s 17 points in 31 minutes off the bench. Hysier Miller had 16 points in a starting role.
Next up for the Tigers is Wichita State. The Shockers will visit FedExForum for 2 p.m. CST start on Sunday (February 27). Memphis defeated the Shockers 82-64 in Wichita on January 1.