The Memphis Tigers (2-3) ended their three-game losing streak against the Southern Illinois Salukis (2-2), 70-66. This was the Tigers’ highest scoring performance of the regular season.
Tuesday’s match was the Tigers’ second road game of the season, and the start of a stretch of four games taking place away from Elma Roane Fieldhouse. They will not play another home game until Dec. 8, when they play the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
The Tigers’ victory over the Salukis is a welcome sign after their heartbreaking loss to the George Washington Colonials 64-63 on a last-second layup to end the game. Head coach Melissa McFerrin started with Jamirah Shutes, Gazmyne Herndon, Aerial Wilson, Lanetta Williams and Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu, marking the third straight game McFerrin decided to go with this initial five.
Against the Salukis, the Tigers came out focused and shot a game-high 45% from the field in the first quarter to take a 22-16 lead at the end of the period. Shutes made the team’s two three-pointers of the game in the quarter and lead the team with 23 points. She also made three rebounds, an assist, a block and two steals.
With so many new faces on the team, not only has Shutes been the team’s leading scorer, but she also had to assume more of a leadership role despite having only begun her second year. Shutes told the media she had to step up, and McFerrin gave her advice to not be discouraged.
“She always reminds me that I will make mistakes because I’m young just like everyone else, but I’m capable of doing more,” Shutes said.
She was not the only player who made her presence felt in Tuesday’s afternoon game. Junior transfer Mendjiadeu posted her first double-double of her Tigers career, posting 12 points and 12 rebounds in 30 minutes. She also added an assist and two blocks. Herndon and Alana Davis also posted double-digit points, scoring 10 and 11 points respectively. This was Herndon’s first double-digit scoring game of the season.
Defensively, the Tigers were able to hold Southern Illinois’ high-powered offense to just 66 points. They had entered this game averaging over 86 points in their three previous contests. Their stout defense started early, holding them to just 22 points in the first half while outscoring them 43-22. The Tigers kept the Salukis’ scoreless in the final five minutes of the first quarter and allowed six points in the second quarter on 30 percent shooting. Not only that, but they limited the Salukis’ to just six second-chance points and forced 16 turnovers, which led to 10 points for the Tigers.
This was a much-needed win for a team that had been struggling previously to put the pieces together. With players like Shutes and Mendjiadeu stepping up, it provided the team a solid 1-2 punch that can force defenses to rethink their original plans.
The Tigers’ shooting could still be improved though, especially from the free throw line where they shot 16 of 25 from the charity stripe, just 64%. If they can work on more of their shots to fall and continue to build on their impressive defensive showings, the Tigers can make their slow start a distant memory and make some noise in the American Athletic Conference.
Their next matchup is away against the Toledo Rockets this Sunday at 1 p.m.