After the announcement earlier in the week that James Wiseman’s ongoing battle with the NCAA had become a nonsuit, Saturday’s home matchup against Alcorn State was a chance to lock back in and focus on what is happening on the court instead of worrying about everything that is happening off it.
With Wiseman sitting amid his eligibility controversy, redshirt sophomore Lance Thomas got the nod to join the starting five in his place. In what was an ugly, foul-filled first half, neither team could get into a rhythm offensively as the whistles consistently slowed the pace of play. A combined 31 team fouls meant that each side spent a lot of time at the free throw line, but a late 24-3 run sent the Tigers into the halftime break leading 52-24.
Memphis continued to roll in the second behind the strength of its defense, holding the Braves to only 30% shooting for the day and forcing 30 turnovers.
Five Tigers scored in double figures, including a pair of twenty-point performances from Precious Achiuwa and Lester Quinones. Although Memphis did struggle with turnovers and knocking down their free throws (24 of 45), their size and athleticism was just too much for the visitors to overcome as Penny Hardaway’s team cruised to its third win of the year over Alcorn State, 102-56.
“We knew that we had the opportunity to right the ship coming home,” Hardaway said. “The guys started off a little slow, but then we got it going with that second unit that came in and then the energy picked up. I felt like we did a really good job.”
Quinones emerging as a key player
In the loss against Oregon, Quinones showed his willingness to do the little things to help the team compete, whether it was contesting open shots, fighting for rebounds or diving on the floor for loose balls. That same hustle was on display against the Braves Saturday, as the freshman went on to finish a game-high 21 points and 10 rebounds, including an efficient 7-for-8 effort from the field.
“Just really crashing the boards since they were a pretty undersized team today, so just crashing really hard every time,” Quinones said. “Breaking their press, finding my open teammates. Just doing all the little things, rebounding and everything else. Cheering for the guys who got in at the end when it was their time to shine. Just overall being a good teammate today was my goal.”
Previously viewed as more of a three-point marksman, it will surely be huge for the Tigers if the freshman from Brentwood, New York can continue to show he can make the gritty, dirty work-type plays that help good teams win games.
Thomas, Maurice step up in Wiseman’s absence
Hardaway, from all accounts, is confident that Wiseman will not be forced to sit for long. And to be fair, the lawsuit more than likely does not get dropped if the UofM thinks the star center will be forced to miss extended time either. But until he does get to suit up again, it will be up to the duo of Lance Thomas and Isaiah Maurice to step in and help Achiuwa on the inside. In their first test Saturday afternoon, they both responded well.
Thomas, who made the first start of his Memphis career, put together a solid day, tallying 11 points, 3 rebounds and a pair of mean blocks early in the second half. Meanwhile Maurice, who had seen his role reduced from a season ago, grabbed 9 boards in only 12 minutes of action and made everyone remember why he was a fan favorite during the conference tournament.
Until Wiseman is allowed to return, the front court will seemingly take on more of a production-by-committee approach. Achiuwa will surely play a large part on the inside, but it will be interesting to see where the rebounds and blocked shots will come from on a game-to-game basis.
At 3-1 and with Wiseman out for the foreseeable future, Tigers fans can expect to take a dip in the new AP poll when it drops next week.
All that matters for now is that they continue to gel and keep themselves in a good position for when the unicorn does come back. On tap next is another home game against Little Rock this Wednesday night at 7 p.m.