PORTLAND, Oregon – Up by 19 points at the half against first-round NCAA Tournament Boise State, University of Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway “knew the game wasn’t over.”
He was right. That big margin dwindled to five points in the second half, forcing the Tigers (22-10) to find an answer to the Broncos’ charge on the way to a 64-53 win. The victory sets up a mountain of a second-round task against the Gonzaga Bulldogs, the No. 1 team in the tournament, on Saturday.
“It was a fantastic win for us and the program. The guys fought hard and we knew the game wasn’t over at halftime because this is March Madness,” said Hardaway, who often preaches that teams are going to always make runs.
“We know Boise (27-8) is a great team. They were going to dig in. They have been in a bunch of close games all year. They have been playing well all year. … But we dug in deep and pulled out a great victory for our first win of this March Madness.”
Memphis spurted to a 12-6 lead. The Broncos responded with back-to-back threes but the Tigers were not phased. They took control of the first half. When freshman Emoni Bates – who had not played since January 28 – made his first shot from deep, Memphis led 27-17.
The Tigers shot noticeably better than they did in the disappointing loss to the Houston Cougars in the title game of the American Athletic Conference tournament. Memphis made four three-pointers in the first half and led 38-19 at halftime.
The Broncos went on an 8-2 run after the break, cutting the Tigers’ lead to 40-27 and they weren’t done. With 9:45 remaining, Memphis’ advantage was down to seven (42-35), with the Tigers only scoring four points in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
A basket by DeAndre Williams (14 points, 5 rebounds( and a three-pointer by Landers Nolley II (12 points) gave the Tigers breathing room with 8:11 left in the game. But the Broncos had Abu Kigab (20 points, 3 rebounds) and he was a second-half problem for Memphis, scoring 12 straight points in one stretch. Memphis led by five (51-46) after the under eight minutes media timeout.
The Broncos could get no closer than five points the rest of the way as Memphis seized control with free throws.
“Going into the game I was anxious to get it started. I wanted to see how my team was going to play in the first five minutes, and we came out to battle. We were battling,” said Hardaway. “After the game, it’s just a relief, because I knew how good Boise State (was). …
“We played them last year in the NIT, and they have gotten better and added some great pieces. And man, they just play together. They are just one unit on both sides of the ball and they are tough. So, I was definitely pleased to get out of there with a win.”
Alex Lomax, the Tigers’ starting point guard, was pivotal in the win with this stat line: 9 points, 5 assists, 5 blocks, 2 turnovers in 30 minutes. With 38 seconds left in the first half, he hit a three-pointer and was fouled on the play, injuring his ankle and leaving the game to get checked out by the medical staff. He returned in the second half, gritting it out.
Afterward, he reflected on the 19-point lead dwindling to five and the adversity the Tigers faced during the season.
“With Coach Penny, we are (always) in situational things in practice. We have been in points where we are up 10 with two minutes, down 10 with two minutes. I just felt like he did a great job of preparing us for that moment.
“Just throughout my past and my history, I’ve always been in games where I could be up 20 or down 20, and the game is never over,” said Lomax. “Just being aware of that, and just keeping my teammates aware of that has always just been a blessing. And like I said, just listen to Coach Penny put us in the right spots. That always helps us get through every time.”
Memphis’ freshman center sensation Jalen Duren – “very excited” by his own description coming into the tournament – said he was “just going into the next game knowing we’ve got to lock in, get back to the drawing board and get ready to play.”
- Memphis was 11 of 15 from the free-throw line.
- The Tigers outrebounded the Broncos (39-30).
- Memphis had 15 turnovers; Boise, had 10.
- Memphis traveled 1,800 miles to face the Boise State Broncos.
- Jalen Duren had another double-double, with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
- Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway notched his 85th win as the Tigers’ head coach, moving into a tie with Larry Finch for third all-time among Memphis coaches in the modern era in their first four seasons. The Tigers’ 22 wins this year equal 2018-19 for the most in the Penny Hardaway era.
- The Tigers’ last NCAA tournament appearance and win were in 2014 when they defeated George Washington in Raleigh, NC. They lost in the second round to number-one seeded Virginia.