The Memphis Tigers (8-5, 2-1) held on and beat Tulsa (6-7, 0-2) 67-64 in their first game at FedexForum since their win against Alabama back on December 14. This game was going to be important for Memphis to show that the team’s win against Wichita State last Sunday was not a fluke.
The team was without their two star freshmen as Jalen Duren was forced to sit out with a hip injury, and Emoni Bates was also out for the night. Their senior starting point guard Alex Lomax also remained out for the second straight game with an ankle injury. With three starters out, head coach Penny Hardaway was forced to get creative with the starting lineup.
He decided to go with the freshman Josh Minott to make his first start of the season. Minott has endeared himself to Tiger Nation, playing hard all game long and always finds a way to be in good position near the ball.
The team came out of the gate with what was maybe their worst start of the season. Four turnovers on their first four possessions led to Tulsa grabbing an early 12-1 lead. The Tigers didn’t score until five minutes had ticked away. After that, however, they woke up. The Tigers outscored the Golden Hurricane 34-13 the rest of the way to take a 34-25 lead into halftime.
Early in the second half, it looked like the Tigers were going to pull away as they started to impose their will on defense, leading to fastbreak points and easy baskets. About five minutes into the second half, the Tigers held a 46-28 lead, and fans could see the team take their foot off the gas.
Eventually, Frank Haith’s Golden Hurricane squad felt it too and started crawling their way back into the game by forcing turnovers and taking advantage of the late-game whistleblowing by the officials. The foul line was a big issue for the Tigers down the stretch, missing many timely free throws that enabled Tulsa to stay around. By the end of the game, Memphis had gone 14-24 from the foul line, a far cry from the 13-15 Tulsa went from the charity stripe. The whistles also led to both of the available big men, Malcolm Dandridge and Josh Minott to foul out down the stretch.
Tulsa crawled closer and closer to the Tigers lead with timely shooting from senior Jeriah Horne and sophomore Sam Griffin. In total, Horne and Griffin combined for 45 of Tulsa’s 67 points for the game. In the final minute of the game, Memphis showed their old habits are still around. Two missed free throws by Earl Timberlake, which would’ve pushed the lead to 67-61, led Griffin from Tulsa to hit a three in the corner to make it a one point game with under five seconds left.
It ultimately came down to Landers Nolley hitting two clutch free throws with 2 seconds left to make it a three point game. With one final chance, Tulsa senior Darien Jackson heaved from just inside half court. The FedExForum tensed up with flashbacks to last season's Houston loss via a half court shot.
Fortunately for the Tigers, it clanked off the back iron and an audible exhale came throughout arena. Even short handed, the Tigers had a few bright spots. Earl Timberlake showed that he is very comfortable being the starting point guard, and Josh Minott showed he deserved to get the starting nod. Even though it was by the skin of their teeth, a win is a win for the Tigers.
The Tigers now have five days to rest up before a big AAC matchup with Cincinnati on Sunday at 2:30 live on ABC at FedexForum.
The Tigers survived a late game push against Tusla after both Dandridge and Minott fouled out.