Losing was a notable part of the post-game conversation after the University of Memphis Tigers got past East Carolina’s Pirates 77-73 at the FedExForum on Wednesday evening.
The Tigers had lost three games in a row and were in deep need of a win to keep their hope for an at-large NCAA Tournament berth alive.
“As long as we get a win. It is by any means necessary,” said Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway. “It doesn’t matter if it is by 1 or 30. I would have loved to have come out and had a 20- or 25-point win to make a statement after losing three in a row. Just getting a win is a statement enough. It is tough to win in this league.”
Heading into Saturday’s home game against Houston, the Tigers will look to build upon an 18-8 overall record and their 7-6 record in the American Athletic Conference (AAC).
“It’s been hard,” Hardaway said of the losing streak. “You lose three close games. You lose to South Florida at home and … on the road to Cincinnati and UCONN. You just want to get off that losing streak and get back on a winning streak.
“It feels really good, because we have been working hard enough to get wins. We just haven’t been able to close games, but tonight we closed one.”
Post-season position for the AAC Tournament is critical for the Tigers. Serious longshot odds face any team needing to win four games in four days to receive the automatic NCAA bid that goes with winning the conference tournament.
Memphis had to hold off a late charge to pull off the win against East Carolina. Key field goals and forced turnovers secured the victory. Precious Achiuwa, the Tigers’ double-double machine, had 24 points and 12 rebounds en route to his 15th double-double of the season. He leads the AAC in that category.
“I don’t want to keep using the same excuse, that we are too young” said Achiuwa. “Freshmen have to become sophomores and sophomores need to become juniors. We are at the point in the season where you have to learn from your mistakes and grow and get things to go where they were supposed to go from the beginning.”
Boogie Ellis had another stellar performance, scoring 17 points. He connected on 3 of 4 from behind the three-point arc and made three of four free throws. His basket with 1:48 left gave the Tigers the lead for good.
Memphis has had the lead late in almost every game the team has played this season.
“We just stop doing the things we needed to do to push the lead out further,” said Hardaway. “It seems like once we get a lead, guys start trying things. …It is frustrating. Its baffling,” said Hardaway.
“It is all we talk about: when we get a lead, this is what we want to do.”
The Pirates were led by Tristen Newton with 23 points and 13 rebounds, including 14 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists in the first half. Jayden Gardner finished with 16 points. The duo fueled ECU’s gritty second-half performance.
* Memphis got off to a very fast start, taking an 8-2 lead. The Pirates cut the lead to four points, but the Tigers fought off that charge and pushed the lead to as many as 16 points (24-8) with 7:44 left in the first half. By halftime, ECU had whittled the lead to six points (33-27).
* Achiuwa picked up two fouls in the first half, still managing to score nine points and grab seven rebounds in 14 minutes of first-half action.
* The game against the Pirates was a #Fight4Literacy matchup – one of several college basketball games designated to promote the 2019-20 Coaching for Literacy initiative. The goal is to empower coaches, teams and fans to make a more literate America by participating in awareness efforts, volunteer work and fundraising activities.
* Next up for Memphis is Saturday’s ESPN game at 1 p.m. against the Houston Cougars at FedExForum. Houston ended the Tigers’ hopes of making it to the NCAA tournament last season with a 61-58 win. The game occurred in the semifinals of the AAC post-season tournament.