In their only meeting of the season, the Memphis Tigers welcomed Temple to FedExForum Wednesday night for another pivotal league matchup.
It did not take long for the visitors to switch to their zone defense, stifling a Tigers offense that has been struggling with turnovers all year long. The lead swayed back and forth until a late Owls scoring drought sent Memphis into the half up 33-25.
There would be no more lead changes after the intermission. Memphis put together as complete a half as we have seen from them in quite some time and ran away with a 79-65 win to improve to 17-5. Lester Quinones tied his career-high with 21 points, Boogie Ellis added 18 and Precious Achiuwa recorded his 12th double-double of the season.
“We keep finding a way to get it done,” Head coach Penny Hardaway said. “It’s not always pretty, but the boys find a way to get spurts in there a lot during the game to push away and get a lead. Today was good for us because we finally put a team away. Even though they kind of hung around a little bit, we were up 18, 20. It wasn’t as desperate as it has been in the past.”
In the wake of D.J. Jeffries’ absence, it had been Lance Thomas stepping up to provide extra scoring in the last two wins over Connecticut and UCF. Wednesday night, it was Quinones’ turn to shoulder the extra load.
“Ever since D.J. has been out, Coach has just been telling me that I’ve got to be more aggressive on the offensive end,” Quinones said. “He wants me to shoot the ball more. He feels like I’ve been passing up a lot of open ones. Before the game, he just told me to shoot when I’m open and shoot every single time I’m open.”
This game could not have come at a better time for this team. With an emphasis nationwide on building a resume worthy of an NCAA tournament bid, they simply cannot afford to drop games on their home floor. The rest of the way, they will need to put together similar performances to keep their hopes of returning to the big dance alive.
“Every game right now is a tournament game for us,” Hardaway said. “That’s how I’m putting it to the boys. Right now, it’s a tournament game. You’ve got to win your games at home. You can’t be giving any more games away on your home court, and you got to go fight like hell on the road.”
Before they travel to Cincinnati next week for a huge tilt with league tournament seeding implications, Memphis will take on South Florida this Saturday at home. In their last meeting, a 68-64 Tigers road win, the Bulls held a big lead in the first before allowing Memphis to storm back and steal the victory. This time around, it will be crucial they get off to a quicker start in front of the home crowd.
Tip-off is set for 3 p.m. Saturday.