Clad in their road-game blues, the Memphis Tigers returned home Saturday for a huge league matchup with 22nd ranked Houston. With their season winding down, Penny Hardaway’s team could ill-afford to let another opportunity slip through their fingers on their own floor.
This one started ugly.
It seemed like somebody forgot to take the lids off the rims prior to tip. The first Memphis bucket did not come until the 13:38 mark courtesy of an Alex Lomax lay-in. Houston only had eight at that point. 15 minutes in, the trio of Boogie Ellis, Lester Quinones and Precious Achiuwa all had goose eggs in the point column. Houston outrebounded them 25-16. Yet, Memphis took a 27-23 lead into the break primarily due to an abysmal 26% shooting performance from Kelvin Sampson’s squad.
Chaos ensued. The 17,735 packed inside FedExForum dramatically hung on every possession, rewarding the officials with a thunderous chorus of boos for every call they disagreed with. Limbs went flying and bodies were sacrificed as each side fought hard for every loose ball.
The Cougs’ continued to dominate the glass, but these Tigers just kept chugging along. Despite shooting only 34%, losing the rebounding margin 43-34 and finishing 3-of-21 from three, Memphis went on to escape with a 60-59 season-saving victory.
“A lot of the things we did today, we haven’t been doing,” Hardaway said. “We worked on it in practice and really hadn’t shown it for 40 minutes. Today, for 40 minutes, we showed who we were and who we could be, defensively and offensively. Even though we only scored 60 points, the shots we got were quality shots and I’m proud of the team for just going out there and being warriors.”
For weeks, Hardaway has yearned for his team to show a sense of desperation. They delivered in bunches Saturday, hustling for every 50/50 ball and fighting for every stop. It was evident they understood the significance of the moment.
“Every game from here on out is desperate,” Alex Lomax said. “We should’ve been that way from the beginning, but it’s win or go home now. We’ve got to be desperate for every game the rest of the season. No matter what.”
This quadrant one win could not have come at a better time for Hardaway and these Tigers. With two more Q1 chances remaining on their schedule, they have a real chance to do some bolstering to their NCAA tournament resume before Selection Sunday on March 15th. All Hardaway is concerned about, however, is what is in front of them.
“I haven’t paid attention to it at all,” Hardaway said. “I understand math and I understand what needs to happen in my mind, so honestly I don’t have to look at the bracketology to know that. You have to beat teams like this to be in the conversation.”
It is worth noting the effect that guard Quentin Grimes’ absence had on the Houston offense. The former Kansas Jayhawk had actually been more effective on the road this season and his scoring ability was surely missed. To help fill the void, the freshman duo of Caleb Mills and Marcus Sasser impressed, combining for 39 of the visitors 59 total points.
With another meeting between these two teams set for March 8 in Houston, they will surely be motivated to return the favor and even the season-series.
Next up for Memphis is a road date at SMU next Tuesday at 8 p.m.