The Tigers were once again short handed for Thursday’s game against ECU, with Jalen Duren, Landers Nolley III, Deandre Williams and Jayden Hardaway on the bench for the second straight game. The matchup was not a perfectly-crafted Mona Lisa. In fact, it could hardly be seen as an abstract piece that you can find beauty in. But that is to be expected with over half of the Tigers’ offensive production on the bench.
However, Tigers head coach Penny Hardaway made do with what he had, using a tenacious defense to wreak havoc on the ECU offense, holding them to a meek 26.4% shooting from the field. The first half was a sight for sore eyes as both teams were trying to make their own music with the rim. The two squads went 25% and 30.3% from the field in the first half respectively and a combined 7-26 from three. Memphis went into the locker room with a 28-24 lead which could have easily been larger if Memphis took advantage of some easy chances.
When the second half started, it was clear that Memphis did not want a repeat of their buzzer-beating heartbreak against the Pirates two weeks ago. Their defense ramped up an extra notch in the second half. East Carolina was not able to get going in the paint all night, which was a point of concern for Memphis without Duren. As the half went on, it was obvious ECU was getting more and more worn down. The rest of the game saw the Tigers keep their foot on the gas, opening a gap that ECU could not close.
“I’m just really proud of the guys considering we’ve had a revolving door of guys,” Hardaway said after the game.
With an entire week before their key road matchup against Cincinnati Feb. 3, Hardaway is “very hopeful to have [Williams, Duren, Hardaway and Nolly] back.” But junior guard Lester Quinones wanted to emphasize the importance of preparing for Thursday’s bout with the Bearcats.
“This week off is not a time for us to rest and recover. It’s more for us to lock in,” Quinones said.
Freshman Josh Minott did his part to push the team past the Pirates, contributing 13 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. “We’ve known it all season long, and he’s finally coming to his own,” Quinones said when asked how it feels to see Minott come into his own down the stretch.
The Tigers have a week to get somewhat healthy before their road trip to Cincinnati with the Bearcats looking to avenge a tough loss suffered at the FedexForum earlier this month. Games against the Bearcats always tend to be a war, so the Tigers will hopefully have some bodies ready to return for Tuesday at 6 pm on ESPN.
The Tigers avenged their buzzer-beater loss to ECU Thursday with a dominating 71-54 victory.