The 14th ranked Memphis Tigers returned home to FedExForum Friday night for their second regular season game, a matchup with the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Despite the deflating news regarding James Wiseman’s eligibility, staying poised and focused would be crucial for the Tigers as they prepare to travel to Portland in a few days to face Oregon in their first serious test of this young season.
Boogie Ellis got off to a scorching start offensively, knocking down three triples in the game’s opening minutes to help quickly grow the Memphis lead. While the Flames were able to briefly fight their way back into it, the talent disparity proved to be too much as the Tigers raced out to a 47-16 halftime lead. Ellis led the way with 18 points, Wiseman tallied five blocks and Quinones dished out a team-high six assists in what was a dominant twenty minutes.
It was more of the same in the second frame as Memphis did not let up coming out of the break. Wiseman, Ellis, D.J. Jeffries and Precious Achiuwa all finished with double digit points, including a game-high 22 from Ellis. The Tigers finished with 21 team assists, won the rebounding margin 42-33 and never trailed as they went on to roll to a 92-46 victory.
“Really proud of the young guys,” Penny Hardaway said. “They did some really special stuff out there on the floor defensively tonight. If I had any downs it was again 16 offensive rebounds, but I get it with young guys. When you’re blowing teams out, you start to not focus on the small things. You start doing things you want to do, and we’re not good enough to do that yet. To hold them to 24% for the game to me is major.”
Wiseman bombshell casts a bleak shadow over the program
About an hour prior to tip-off, the shocking news broke that the preseason AP All American center had been ruled ineligible by the NCAA because of the circumstances surrounding his 2018 move to Memphis. During that time, Wiseman’s junior year of high school, Hardaway was said to have provided over $11,000 to aid in moving expenses. Since he was not coaching Memphis at the time, the NCAA deemed Hardaway a booster of the program.
Although he was unable to offer comments after the game on the ongoing eligibility situation, Hardaway did commend his freshman center for his performance, and the way he blocked out the negativity.
“I mean, obviously, an eighteen-year old kid having this type of attention, in this moment, I’m sure he was a little nervous,” Hardaway said. “But he went out there and played his heart out. Had five blocks in the first half. To me he was still business as usual.”
While this news certainly comes as a disappointment for Tigers fans, the ruling still has a chance to be overturned. Attorney Leslie Ballin, who has filed a lawsuit against both the UofM and the NCAA, announced the eligibility hearing will be held on Nov. 18.
Until then, Wiseman will continue to play, meaning that any wins with him on the floor would be vacated if the hearings do not end up going their way. Depending on the outcome, losing Wiseman would be an enormous blow to both the aspirations and morale of a season that of began with so much promise.
X-factor of the night
While the Wiseman news understandably sent the entire Memphis area into a frenzy, the Tigers still had to take care of business on the floor. Boogie Ellis shined in a big way Friday night, connecting on his first six three-point tries, including one from well-beyond NBA range.
The former Duke commit has already shown why he was such a highly coveted prospect coming out of high school, and he will be a real headache for opposing backcourts if his jumper keeps falling consistently.
“It felt good,” Ellis said. “I’ve been putting a lot of time in the gym, so I expected that. Just playing with confidence. My teammates found me tonight and did a great job looking for me, so I appreciate that.”
On tap next for the Tigers is a road date with the No.15-ranked Oregon Ducks, a clash that will provide a much better idea of where this team truly is.
With Wiseman expected to play, it should make for an intriguing contest as both teams look to pick up an early resume’ building win.
Tip-off in Portland Tuesday is slated for 8 p.m. CT.