Shortly before the players began filing out for the pregame shoot around for Wednesday night’s home contest against Little Rock, news broke that the NCAA had decided to suspend star freshman James Wiseman for twelve games.
Counting last Saturday’s win over Alcorn St., in which Wiseman sat out, the eleven remaining games he is scheduled to miss means he will be eligible to return Jan. 12, a road date at South Florida. Additionally, Wiseman was ordered to pay back the initial $11,500 to a charity of his choosing.
It is obvious having Wiseman in any capacity is better for Memphis than having him miss the entire season, but when his lawsuit against the NCAA was dropped, it was done under the belief that the punishment would not be as severe due to the unique circumstances.
However, twelve games doesn’t feel like two sides coming to a mutual understanding at all. It feels like the first of what could potentially be an extensive list of infractions meant to make an example out of a program that had just gotten its juice back.
Drama aside, Memphis got off to a dreadful start offensively, failing to convert their first eight tries from the field while just looking a bit out of sync overall. Meanwhile, the visitors kept their composure and found good shots early, but they were unable to pull away. After trailing for most of the half, a late, D.J. Jeffries'-fueled run provided enough spark to send Penny Hardaway’s team into the break with a slim 28-23 lead.
Fouls drastically slowed the pace of play during the second half, hindering both sides from gaining any momentum. The Trojans fought hard and played well defensively, but 25 turnovers were too much to overcome as Memphis finally settled into a groove and went on to pick up an ugly 68-58 win. Jeffries turned in a solid 15-point performance, Precious Achiuwa led all scorers with a hard-fought, 16-point, 11-rebound double-double and Alex Lomax tallied seven points and seven assists.
“I kind of got the feeling, how the locker room was before the game, that these kids were taking Little Rock for granted,” Hardaway said. “It wasn’t the same energy. I don’t know why. We don’t have any excuses for that. We came out on the floor and got down 9-0. I kind of liked when we got down to the last 5 minutes and it was a close game because I kind of want to know what my team is made of. I wanted to see who was ready for the moment. Every game doesn’t have to be a blowout because you need some tests, and this was a big test for us.”
After getting off to their worst opening minutes of the season, it was Jeffries who stepped up and delivered some much-needed baskets bringing the crowd back to life. While he hasn’t been as aggressive scoring the ball as he could be, it was an encouraging performance from a guy who has no choice but to be a top option in Wiseman’s absence.
“I think we came out a little flat footed, the starting five,” Achiuwa said. “But that’s the advantage of having a really good team with a lot of good players. He [Jeffries] came in the game and just carried the team for the next six, seven minutes of the first half. That’s a good thing to have guys on the bench that can come in the game and make a big impact. If it wasn’t for D.J., we’d probably be talking about something totally different right now.”
Although it came in sloppy fashion, Memphis once again was able to fall back on its pure talent when it got down to crunch time. While that won’t be the case the deeper they get into the schedule, all they can do is control what is in front of them and try to continue to gel on the floor until Wiseman returns. However, the tests won’t get any easier as they’ll welcome Ole Miss to FedExForum this Saturday. Tip-off against the Rebels is set for 12 p.m.