In their first game since the statement win at Tennessee and the shocking news that James Wiseman will not return at all this season, the Memphis Tigers returned to FedExForum Saturday to take on Jackson State University.
JSU hit a couple of threes early, but the combo of Precious Achiuwa and D.J. Jeffries was too much to handle offensively as Memphis was able to stretch its lead to as much as 16 midway through the half. Isaiah Maurice tallied three blocks, but 18 turnovers were enough to keep the visitors close as they went into the break only trailing 39-28.
While the turnover bug continued to plague them after the break, head coach Penny Hardaway’s team turned up the intensity and went on to roll to a 77-49 win to improve to 10-1 on the season. Achiuwa shot an efficient 8-of-9 from the field and led the way with 20 points and nine boards while Jeffries finished with 13 and seven.
“To go on Christmas break being 10-1, I’m very proud of that,” Hardaway said. “Obviously it was an ugly game because we had 28 turnovers. Other than that, between three-point shooting and turnovers, everything else was beautiful. Just to get a win is a blessing.”
Prior to the news that Wiseman had decided to forgo the rest of his collegiate career in favor of preparing for the NBA draft, it was presumed that he would come in and take over the bulk of the responsibilities at center. Although Achiuwa had performed well in place of the unicorn, minutes primarily at center weren’t what he envisioned when he signed on to round out the nation’s top recruiting class.
Saturday, in his now permanent role, the freshman wasted no time reminding Tigers fans why he was so highly sought-after coming out of high school.
“I already know what I can do,” Achiuwa said. “I kind of started off slow at the beginning of the season, but I knew what I could do so I wasn’t really worried about it. The game is starting to slow down for me.”
As they approach the end of non-conference play, it is important that this team takes some time to recalibrate its focus and try to move forward. Obviously, losing a player like Wiseman will not be easy to get over. So much time was spent analyzing his situation with the NCAA and projecting what the team would look like with him back in the fold, and now he’s just gone.
“It couldn’t be a more perfect time for us to go on break,” Hardaway said. Everybody needs to exhale, decompress and really just sit back, unwind and enjoy the first 11 games. We were close in the Oregon game to being 11-0, so hopefully being in the top-10 by Monday. That’s an incredible accomplishment for this team.”
Memphis will return to FedExForum next Saturday for a clash with New Orleans before opening conference play against Tulane on the Dec. 30.
Tip-off against the Privateers is set for 12:30 p.m.