While the Braves may not be the most daunting opponent that they will see on their schedule, they still boast a solid win over Kansas State and feature a dynamic pair of senior guards in Darrell Brown Jr and Nate Kennell. The Memphis Tigers were able to take the sloppy 71-56 win at home Tuesday night.
In what was an ugly half of basketball, both sides got off to an abysmal start offensively. Penny Hardaway’s team struggled to create much of a rhythm and shot below 40%, but still took a 10-point lead into the break after the visitors finished 9-for-36 from the field in the first 20 minutes.
Memphis showed signs of life early in the second, but they were never able to piece together a run to put the game away. The Braves outrebounded Memphis 55-47 and limited the Tigers to only 11 assists, but Hardaway’s group was able to pull out the ugly win behind a career high 17-point performance from Alex Lomax. Precious Achiuwa added 14 rebounds and Tyler Harris knocked down a pair of triples, but their overall 36% mark from the field certainly leaves a bit to be desired.
Ugly win raises more questions than answers
On one hand, seeing a young team grind out close wins can be encouraging because it shows a level of maturity that will be crucial for this team to succeed. However, when they give up 23 offensive rebounds and only force 7 turnovers, it also remains clear that they have a lot of work to do inside before they can truly compete with the country’s elite teams. With seven games remaining until Wiseman can ran return from suspension, there is no better time than the present for them to get more active inside and play aggressive instead of sleepwalking through the paint.
“It was a terrible game for us,” Lomax said. “From the physical aspect, we let two guys get double-digit rebounds. We’ve gotta toughen up. Guards, bigs. We’ve got to do a better job of working together, boxing out and not letting one guy control the glass. We don’t look at this as a good game at all. This was a bad game for us, and we’ve just got to get tougher.”
X-factor of the night
In their contests against Ole Miss and NC State, it was Achiuwa who shouldered the scoring load for the Tigers. Tuesday night, the Braves came determined to not let him do the same, keying on him whenever he was on the floor and forcing him into shots that he typically would not be comfortable with taking. In his place, however, Lomax stepped up in a major way as he went on to finish with a career-high 17 points and a pair of assists off the bench.
“What happened to Alex last year is what happens to a lot of freshmen,” Hardaway said. “They try to do more than what they’re supposed to do. They kind of get away from their own game and start reading the clippings and wanting to be somebody that they aren’t supposed to be. Alex has always been an energy player, great defender. Last year he tried to become a jump shooter and started doing things that he wasn’t used to doing. This year, he’s coming in and playing his game. He’s letting the game come to him. He’s running the show and he’s looking really good because that who he’s always been.”
Before the start of the year, one of the biggest lingering questions was who would emerge as a leader on the floor for a team made up of so many young players. So far, it is Lomax who has stepped up into that vocal role. For Hardaway, he will need his sophomore guard to keep it up as the season wears on and adversity looms.
Before they head to Knoxville next weekend for a date with Tennessee, Memphis will first travel to UAB this Saturday to renew the old conference USA rivalry with the Blazers. Against the Vols, they simply cannot afford to play like they did against Bradley, so it will be crucial they use Saturday’s game to get right and build some confidence before potentially the biggest game on their schedule next week.
Tipoff against the Blazers is set for 4:30 p.m. in Birmingham.