Clad in their fresh home whites, the Memphis Tigers (10-6, 6-3) welcomed Central Florida (4-8, 2-7) to FedExForum Monday night for the first of two meetings between them in a three-day span this week.
A 17-3 Memphis run in the first five minutes set the tone for how the night would go. The Knights’ nineteen first-half turnovers were converted into twenty-nine points, the Tigers shot a blistering 50% from three and the deficit at halftime stood at twenty-three.
Memphis kept its foot on the gas after the break, extending their lead to as much as thirty-one while the visitors continued to struggle with giveaways. Despite only narrowly winning the overall rebounding margin, points off turnovers (40 total off 28 UCF turnovers) truly made the difference for Memphis as they rolled to a dominant 96-66 win.
“I felt like this was the most complete game we’ve had all season,” sophomore guard Boogie Ellis said. “We locked in and bought into the game plan. We did a great job pressuring, everybody made open shots and everyone was playing together. We just had a lot of fun.”
Landers Nolley paced all scorers with 20 points, Deandre Williams contributed 15 more on an efficient 6/6 shooting while also swiping five steals, and Alex Lomax knocked down four triples on five tries, the best night from beyond the arc of his Tigers career thus far. After posting some putrid shooting numbers earlier in the season, they have started to see a reverse in fortune: they are shooting 48% from three over their last five games.
“Not even during the ten-game win streak we had last year, we did not shoot it this well,” coach Penny Hardaway said. “It’s starting to come together. We shoot every day. We have our 'tiger hundred,' where the guys have shoot one hundred threes and chart it. We get a lot of three-pointers up, a lot of shots up during pregame and a lot during shootaround. We knew we would hit our stride and start shooting the ball well.”
For a team that is no stranger to starting out slowly, Monday’s result was encouraging. Memphis jumped on the Knights early and never looked back, showing what this team can look like when everything is clicking.
“I still go back. We were playing this way before the season started,” Hardaway said. “Deandre Williams was a huge part of this flow of how we played this way, and then we went to South Dakota and he was ruled ineligible and wasn’t able to play, so we had to look for other people to create things and it just wasn’t the same. It was just more one-on-one basketball. It’s just taken us this long to get people to buy into playing team basketball, sharing the basketball. It’s starting to look a lot like we thought it would to begin the season.”
Monday night’s win was the first leg of a pivotal four-game stretch. After concluding their regular season series with the Knights this Wednesday, the Tigers will then host East Carolina on Saturday. Next week, they will close out their four-game home-stand against Cincinnati.
Now winners of four out of their last five, it is imperative they keep stacking wins if they want to steady their position in the American Athletic Conference standings.
Tip-off vs the Knights on Wednesday is set for 7 p.m.