In the second game of the Barclays Center Classic – and the Tigers’ first since learning James Wiseman is ineligible to play until Jan. 12 – the Memphis took on the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, and the Tigers came out with the 68-58 win.
Much like the pregame legal drama that started this saga less than two weeks ago, the announcement of Wiseman’s ineligibility came just three hours before tipoff. The University of Memphis said in a statement that they will appeal the ruling.
To say the Tigers got off to a slow start would be an understatement. They went scoreless for the first five minutes of the game, until a D.J. Jeffries dunk put them on the board. That score ended a 9-0 UALR start to the game.
“(My players) were taking Little Rock for granted,” said Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway. “It wasn’t the same energy (as other games). I don’t know why. I don’t have any excuses for that.”
For a team still dealing with what could be called “eligibility fatigue,” Jeffries was what the doctored order. He would continue to provide the energy off the bench, eventually giving the Tigers their first lead of the game (20-19) with 4:24 left in the first half. Jeffries finished the half with 15 points as the Tigers took a 28-23 lead into the locker room.
“DJ is a superb talent. He is learning so much. He goes out hard, even if he don’t know what to do, he gives you effort,” Hardaway said. “The sky is the limit for D. J. He is an excellent talent.”
The Tigers played better to start the second half, quickly pushing the lead to 35-25. Memphis allowed the Trojans to trim the lead to 52-50 with just over five minutes to play. Sophomore Tyler Harris drained a three-pointer that kept UALR at bay.
“We came out a little flat-footed with the starting five. That is the advantage of having a really good team with a lot of good players,” said Tiger forward Precious Achiuwa. “We have guys on the bench that can come in and make a big impact.”
While the first half belonged to Jeffries, Achiuwa took over in the second, posting 13 points and nine boards in the half. He finished with his first-ever career double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
The Tigers closed out the game with a 13-5 run to seal the win.
“We did not follow the game plan as we were expected to, but as the game went on we understood what we needed to do to win the game,” Achiuwa said.
As Hardaway promised, other Tiger big men would get more minutes in Wiseman’s absence. Lance Thomas got the start. And backup Isaiah Maurice had one of his best games of the young season, with nine rebounds and four blocks off the bench. He even connected on a three-point shot.
“I had to apologize to Isaiah,” Hardaway said of Maurice’s night. “I have got to find some more minutes for Isaiah. I am proud of Isaiah.”
“If you turn the ball over and go 13 for 29 from the line and can’t make layups you are going to lose basketball games,” said UALR head coach Larry Walker. “We are a really good basketball team, but we weren’t executing properly. As a coach you get frustrated, but we competed.”
Hardaway said he didn’t tell his team about the Wiseman suspension before the game. He said most of the players had their phones off and had not heard about the ruling before they headed into the postgame press conference. Not surprisingly, Hardaway was bothered by the penalty.
“I don’t think it is fair,” Hardaway said. “James should be on the floor. That is how I feel.”
Next up for the Tigers will be a matchup against the Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday November 23. The game can be seen on ESPN3 and locally on Channel CW30. Tip off for the game is at 12 noon. The FedExForum will host a Tailgate 901 on Saturday from 9 am until 7 pm. The Grizzlies will play the Lakers at 7 pm on Saturday night.