Looking to improve on last season's fifth place finish, the No. 9 Memphis Tigers opened American Conference play Monday night at FedExForum against Tulane.
The Green Wave, who are led by former Georgia State coach Ron Hunter, feature a new-look roster that will be hoping to be more competitive in the AAC after a dreadful 0-18 league record last year.
The visitors were the aggressors early as they quickly got out to a 13-4 lead, but two threes from Lester Quinones provided enough of a spark for the Memphis offense to shake off a slow start. While Tulane battled and kept it close for most of the half, a late surge sent the Tigers into the break up 10.
Precious Achiuwa brought the energy to the start the second, throwing down a pair of rim-rattling dunks that brought the crowd to life.
However, Tulane was able to weather the storm and keep their composure down the stretch, pulling within as little as three before ultimately falling by the final score of 84-73.
Quinones led the way with 16 points, Damion Baugh added 15, Achiuwa and D.J. Jeffries each chipped in 14 and Tyler Harris finished with 12 as Memphis went on to pick up its tenth consecutive win and move to 12-1 overall.
"I'm proud of the boys," Penny Hardaway said. "It's the first win in conference against a tough matchup zone that Coach Hunter has been playing for years, and it's just tough to dissect, especially with a young team. To only have 12 turnovers and get a victory in the first conference game, knowing it wasn't going to be easy, I'm proud of the boys."
Coming off two straight turnover-ridden performances, it was encouraging to see only 12 compared to their 24 team assists. Without James Wiseman, it'll be crucial that they can put together more efficient, balanced performances as they get further into conference play.
"We have to do it by committee," Hardaway said. "We've got a ton of talent on this team. We're one of the deepest teams, if not the deepest in the country, as far as talent from top to bottom, and we have to share the basketball. Those 24 assists are a product of five guys being in double figures. That's the way we want to see it. It makes us harder to guard when we move the ball."
While Quinones' 16 points led the Tigers, KJ Lawson was the night's top scorer as he finished with 22 points in his first game at FedExForum since his departure from Memphis. Prior to tip, boos rained down on Lawson as the Green Wave starters were introduced.
"I thought it was very disrespectful to boo him," Ron Hunter said. "This is a kid from your hometown. He is a great young man. I've been coaching for 33 years. He is a terrific young man."
With their first conference win now under their belts, Memphis will once again prepare for a tough test this weekend, a home tilt against projected top-5 pick Anthony Edwards and Georgia. Tip against the Bulldogs in the final non-conference matchup for the Tigers is set for noon on Saturday.