Wichita State (18-5, 8-3 American Athletic Conference) rolled past Memphis 85-65 Tuesday night. The Tigers (14-10, 5-6 AAC) played a game where their starters struggled to see production. The bench outscored the starters 40-25, but it was not enough to beat the second best team in the AAC.
Raynere Thornton saw 29 minutes on the court, and Kareem Brewton, Jr. and David Nickleberry each saw 28.
“I thought overall, our bench was outstanding, and I’m really proud with how they competed,” head coach Tubby Smith said. “We have some things to work with — especially the younger players."
The Shockers started off with a 7-0 run after the Tigers struggled early with turnovers. Smith quickly took out four of his starters, and his bench saw production. Nickleberry and Thornton each hit threes to cut the Shockers' lead to 17-15 in the middle of the first half. Memphis allowed Wichita State five points, but a layup by Karim Sameh Azab kept the Tigers within five points.
Thornton hit a jumper, to which WSU's Rauno Nurger responded with his own jumper, but Thornton hit another shot to keep the Shockers' lead 28-23. However, the Tigers struggled to defend the three-point line, and Zach Brown was left open for a three to extend the Shockers' lead to eight with 5:11 to play in the first half.
Jeremiah Martin hit a jumper, but Austin Reaves followed with a three-pointer, and the Shockers led 34-23. Free throws got the Tigers up to 29 points, but they were unable to score the last four minutes of the half, and the Tigers were down 40-29 at the break.
The second half opened with a dunk from Kyvon Davenport, but a foul moments later took the Tigers’ big scorer to the bench. The Memphis defense kept the Shockers from scoring for nearly two minutes.
Halfway through the second half, a dunk from Victor Enoh and a layup from Nickleberry put the Tigers within five. The Shockers went up by eight, but a jumper and free throws from Kareem Brewton, Jr. put the Tigers within five again. The Shockers then went on a 7-0 run, and the Tigers were unable to come within single digits again. The Shockers were up by as many as 27 with 1:12 left to play, but the Tigers went on a 7-0 run in the final minute to bring the lead back to 20.
After the game, Smith said rebounding was an issue his team talked about in practice. The Shockers out-rebounded the Tigers 39-28. The Tigers allowed the Shockers 23 second-chance shots.
Tubby said he is hopeful after the aggression he saw from his bench, but he said patience is still important.
“I can't predict the future, but I know that we are on the right path,” Smith said. “We have the right people in place. It is never easy though, and it has been the same everywhere I have been. At Tulsa, Georgia, Texas Tech or Minnesota, they all thought we should be winning right away, but it just doesn't happen. It is a process.”
Jeremiah Martin dunks against Wichita State. He had 16 points and 4 rebounds in the game.