The final result wasn't pretty, but the Memphis Tigers (6-4, 2-1) emerged victorious over the South Florida Bulls (5-4, 1-2) 58-57 Wednesday night at the FedexForum.
The Tigers stumbled out of the gate offensively, but came along as the game entered the latter stages of the first half. They finished the first frame of play shooting an efficient 48 percent from the field, and they carried a 25-23 lead into intermission.
South Florida quickly responded in the second half, dashing out of the intermission with two consecutive three pointers and eventually stretching their lead to 36-24 with 10 minutes left in the contest. Tigers head coach Penny Hardaway questioned his team's desire during that portion of the game, and revealed his bewilderment at his team's lack of urgency postgame.
"I am not sure why it takes trailing in games for us to wake up", Hardaway said. "It shows that we do not have ten players who are locked in at all times, and that needs to change. However, a win is a win and we will take it."
The Tigers gifted South Florida numerous opportunities to win the contest, starting with the 12 point lead the Bulls sported into the latter part of the second half. Bulls guard Caleb Murphy gave the Tigers fits all evening, scoring 16 of his game-high 20 points in the second half. Despite Murphy's outburst, Memphis performed admirably on the defensive end when it counted, as Tigers forward D.J. Jeffries swatted away a potential Murphy game-winner in the waning seconds of the contest.
Numerous Tigers contributed in the victory, but the catalyst for the second half rally was junior point guard Alex Lomax. Lomax, who missed the team's loss against Tulsa, came off the bench and contributed 5 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 assists. However, his impact on the contest extended well beyond the box score. The point guard's hustle and grit propelled and inspired his team, and Hardaway was impressed with Lomax's efforts, and was keen to praise him after the contest.
"Alex was upset that he missed the last game against Tulsa because he wanted to be out there to help his team win", Hardaway said. "The passion that he put into tonight's contest shows the type of player he is."
Lomax played with a big chip on his shoulder, and he wasn't shy about addressing the skeptics who have critiqued his game throughout the course of the season.
"The people who have turned against me are probably the uncles and parents of players I dominated in middle and high school and college, but the true Tiger fans are the ones I appreciate", he said.
The Tigers will square off against Temple on Saturday, while USF plays host to UCF on the same day.