The Memphis Tigers kicked off their much anticipated 2019 season Tuesday night at FedExForum against South Carolina State in the first of a pair of home games this week. The visitors got off to a blistering start offensively, but a raucous crowd and the overwhelming size of James Wiseman were enough to help the Tigers pull away as they took a 50-32 lead into the break.
Penny Hardaway’s bunch found its rhythm in the second as the offense was able to get settled in while the defense turned the intensity up a notch as Memphis went on to run away with its first win of the season, a 97-64 throttling of South Carolina State. Wiseman led all scorers with 28 points and 11 rebounds while Precious Achiuwa went on to finish with 14 points and 8 rebounds of his own.
James Wiseman makes everything better
Any lingering concerns about the ankle injury that kept the big man sidelined during the team’s two exhibition games were quickly laid to rest as the freshman phenom shined bright in his Memphis debut. In the blink of an eye, he had two thunderous dunks that brought the crowd to life, and his length created an almost unfair mismatch for whoever was unfortunate enough to be guarding him while he was on the floor.
“I was really just taking it possession by possession,” Wiseman said. “Not trying to rush anything, just trying to stay in the flow of the game and just trusting my teammates.”
It is clear why Wiseman was labeled a surefire draft lottery prospect coming into his collegiate career. Still, it will be worth monitoring just how much he is relied upon as the season wears on. If he can get to his spots and finish efficiently like his 11-for-14 shooting performance tonight, it is going to be difficult for anyone in the country to slow him down.
All-around team effort an encouraging sign
In their two preseason contests, Memphis struggled with giving up offensive rebounds and turning the ball over, two issues they would certainly need to correct before going on the road to face Oregon next week. They showed signs of progress Tuesday night as they went on to win the rebounding margin 42-25, including allowing only seven offensive boards.
While Wiseman certainly deserved the attention for his dominant night, the 21 team assists, and 10 blocks stood out just as much on the box score. Damion Baugh displayed his keen passing vision as he racked up eight assists while D.J. Jeffries showed off his two-way prowess as he recorded four rejections.
“Very proud of the team. We have a young team, maybe the youngest in the country,” Hardaway said. “To come out and play the way we played, we were a little stagnant at first, and then once we hit our stride, it became a beautiful night for a lot of reasons. Our game plan, discipline, the way that we shared the basketball, the things that we needed to see tonight. This was a great night for us, and I was proud of the guys tonight.”
With Wiseman back in the fold, the identity of this team starts to become more evident. While it still early in the season and ups and downs are surely coming, they will surely be exciting to watch.
Memphis is back in action Friday night at FedExForum against the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) at 6 p.m.