When your team wins by 27 points on the road, a coach focused on getting better for a tougher test ahead takes an account of the quality of the win.
“The first half we had a beautiful mindset. In the second half when you get into these blowout games, guys get selfish and want to get points,” Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway said on Sunday after the Tigers blew out the East Carolina Pirates (80-53) in Greenville, North Carolina.
ECU only had eight scholarship players available and their head coach, Joe Dooley, had to stay away from the arena because of COVID-19 protocols.
“We got selfish and didn’t finish the game off like we should,” said Hardaway. Some guys want to win their way, but we want to win as a team. We are trying to win the right way. If you win the right way it will repeat itself. Having SMU coming up you have to play the right way.”
For the Tigers (8-5, 4-2 American Athletic Conference), it was the first of five scheduled games in 11 days and followed their best game of the season, a 72-52 win over Wichita State. The talent and depth of the Tigers was on display early as Memphis rolled to a 31-14 lead with 7:43 left to play in the first half. The defense of the Tigers was just too much for the Pirates (7-4, 1-4) to overcome.
Memphis forced the Pirates into 21 percent shooting in the first half and converted nine turnovers into 11 points. Following a 39-8 run, the Tigers went into the half with a 49-18 lead.
Hardaway was not happy with his team’s second-half performance. ECU outscored Memphis 35-31 after the break but never got closer than 20 points.
The Tigers rode a balanced offensive effort to the win. Everyone who played scored. For the second consecutive game, Memphis made 11 three-point shots. They were led by Moussa Cissé with 15 points and 9 rebounds. DeAndre Williams had 10 points and 7 rebounds.
Memphis had 20 assists on 29 made baskets and outrebounded the Pirates 45-35. Turnovers, however, were worrisome.
“I am happy about the 20 assists,” Hardaway said. “The 17 turnovers were unforced. You can’t have that. That is what brings it down a little bit. If you play the right way, those turnovers aren’t that high. You could score 15 more points. That is the way I look at it. I am not trying to beat them down. You have to play the right way to win.”
Boogie Ellis broke out of a shooting and scoring slump with 11 points, including two of five three-point shots.
“I just rely on the work I put in in the gym … in knowing who I am,” Ellis said. “I stay level-headed and locked in. I can live with the missed shots. I can control playing hard and being a good teammate.”
Memphis is back in action Tuesday night at FedExForum against SMU. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. and the game can be seen on ESPNU.
Tuesday’s game is a rescheduling of the game between the two that was postponed on Jan. 14 due to COVID-19-related issues at SMU. Fans with tickets to the original Jan. 14 date should use those tickets for entrance on Tuesday