Monday, December 30, 2019

#9 Tigers 84, Tulane 73

Posted By on Mon, Dec 30, 2019 at 11:39 PM

The 9th-ranked Tigers opened American Athletic Conference play Monday night at FedExForum, starting what they hope will be a championship run just as one year — and decade — yields to another. After falling behind the Green Wave early (13-4), the Tigers surged with multiple runs fueled by the talented roster of freshmen coach Penny Hardaway has at his disposal. With 14 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, and three blocks, D.J. Jeffries was merely one of five Memphis players to score at least a dozen. With help from a pair of sophomores (Tyler Harris and Alex Lomax) in crunch time, the Tigers earned their 10th straight win and improved to 12-1 for the season.
click to enlarge D.J. Jeffries - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • D.J. Jeffries

"I'm proud of the boys," said Hardaway. "First conference win against a tough match-up zone. It's tough to dissect, especially for a young team. We knew it wasn't going to be easy."

Memphis shared the ball as well as it has all season, dishing out 24 assists (with but 12 turnovers) on 34 made field goals. Lomax matched Jeffries with eight dimes and Damion Baugh handed out six assists to go with his 15 points. (Lomax was a remarkable plus-27 in 25 minutes of playing time. He hit three important free throws in the game's final three minutes when Tulane pulled within four points.)

Lester Quinones appeared to be in top form in his second game back from a right-hand injury. Coming off the bench, Quinones hit four three-pointers, scored 16 points and drew five fouls from Tulane players. Harris also hit four treys and Precious Achiuwa threw down three second-half dunks on his way to 14 points and 10 rebounds, his sixth double-double of the season.

"Going 1-0 in conference play is huge," said Quinones. "Just grinding out a win. We're coming together, on and off the court, as brothers. Coach has emphasized cutting down on turnovers. Instead of flashy passes, just run the offense, execute. And our ball movement was excellent today."

Native Memphian (and former Tiger) K.J. Lawson led the Green Wave (8-5) with 22 points. The graduate transfer — playing for his third program — got emotional in the postgame press conference when asked about the mixture of boos and cheers he heard when he was introduced with the Tulane starters. "You can never blame the kids," said Hardaway. "K.J. was in a situation with his father, he needed to move. It's a family decision. He wanted to play well. The few fans who booed him, that's a shame."

The Tigers return to FedExForum Saturday to host Georgia and one of the country's top freshmen, Anthony Edwards. Memphis will aim to extend its winning streak to 11 games with another group effort, a "win by committee" as Hardaway describes it.

"Chemistry is everything with a young team," stressed Hardaway, whose longest winning streak as a player for the Tigers was six games (in 1993). "Usually when you get a young team, everyone wants to be The Man. But this team has gelled, and is working off one another, on and off the court. We're gonna need that."

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