Lester Nolley II, who led the Tigers with 16 points, eyes a loose ball. (Photo: Terry Davis)
Terry Davis

Memphis was 40 for 40 as minutes in a college basketball game go and that measured up to a coach-satisfying, 20-point win over Wichita State’s Shockers at the FedExForum on Thursday night.

With fans – a COVID-19 restricted number of them – allowed into the arena for the first time in a while, the Tigers downed Wichita State 72-52.

Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway. (Photo: Terry Davis)

“I am proud of the team. This was a total-team win,” Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway said. “We looked like a basketball team tonight for 40 minutes. We shot the ball well from behind the three-point line. I’m happy.”

Happiness was a welcomed feeling after the Tigers’ disappointing 58-57 loss at Tulsa in their previous game, which they led for almost 30 minutes.

The defense, which has been solid all season, held the Shockers to 25.7 percent shooting from the floor in the first half, with Memphis leading 25-19 at the break.

Memphis used its strength on the inside to start the second half, with Moussa Cissé scoring eight of the Tigers’ first 12 points. Memphis opened the half with a 23-13 run.

“I felt really good. It has been a long time coming,” said Hardaway. “I know we have always had this fire power. We still did not have everyone to show up like they are capable of. It was a big exhale. The boys got to see the fruits of their labor.”

After the Tigers rolled to a 16-point lead, the Shockers cut it down to a nine-point game (50-41), but Memphis did not fold.

“We went back to what was working,” Hardaway said. “We told the guys do not go for the home-run play. On the defensive end we got back to the basics.”

Lester Quinones had the tough task of defending Tulsa’s Tyson Etienne, one of the top scorers in the conference at 17-plus points a game. Quinones finished with seven points and five rebounds. Etienne scored three points.

Alex Lomax, who scored 12 points on four-of-five shooting (including two three-pointers) and dished out five assists from the point-guard position, said Quinones was “the biggest part of the game today.

“Etienne is one of the leading scorers in the conference. I love the fact that Lester took it personally. He knew him from back in high school. He let the world know he can guard the best player in the conference.”

Landers Nolley II led the Tigers in scoring with 16-points and made four of five three-pointers.  DeAndre Williams, who finished with 10 points and was crucial in setting up his teammates, had to leave the game early after he was hit in nose by an accidental elbow.  According to Hardaway, he had a bloody nose but should be ready to play Sunday.

The Tigers will play five games over an 11-day period. Lomax put the stretch ahead in this context:

“Everybody’s goal on the team is to go to the NBA. We are going to look at it like an NBA schedule. We will have a game every other day and we have to be ready.”

NEXT: Memphis plays at East Carolina on Sunday (Jan. 24). Tip-off is set for 3 p.m. CDT and can be seen on ESPN2.