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Memphis' NCAA Hopes Shrink in Loss at North Texas

Memphis forward David Jones dribbles the ball up the court, as the Tigers fall on the road at North Texas.
Memphis forward David Jones dribbles the ball up the court, as the Tigers fall on the road at North Texas.

Memphis fell at North Texas 76-66, in a game they needed for their dwindling at-large hopes and placement in the AAC standings. After winning three straight games following their season-altering four game losing streak, this was a game that could have proven that the Tigers were back close to the form they had in non-conference play. Instead, they suffered yet another crushing defeat in conference play. 

Slow Start 

The game got out of hand from the start, with North Texas starting 6/6 from three and Memphis turning the ball over six times in the first 5:15 of play, resulting in an early 18-4 lead for the Mean Green. North Texas started with more energy and focus, and that opening run gave them great insurance for the ensuing Memphis run. 

The Tigers were able to claw back, and even take the lead late in the first half, but went into halftime down 33-30. As a result of their slow start, North Texas was able to take the lead into halftime even with a six minute scoring drought in the first half.  

Three Point Defense 

Once again, three-point defense plagued the Tigers, and it reared its ugly head instantly in this game, as previously mentioned. Coming into a game against the best three-point shooting team in the conference, and the 16th best in the nation, one would think defending the three-point shot would be of the highest priority.  

That did not seem to be the case, as North Texas shot 16/28 (57.1%) from deep, many of which being wide open. Jason Edwards, North Texas’ leading scorer in the game with 30 points, said, “Coach told us afterwards to not get surprised at how open we’re gonna be.” 

The 16 makes from three represent the most made against the Tigers this year, and continue a trend in losses this season. In all but one of the Tigers’ seven losses, the opposing team hit 10 or more three-pointers, with the only exception being the UAB game, where the Blazers hit 9.  

Stars not showing up 

The Tigers two best players, David Jones and Jahvon Qunierly, each had poor showings. Jones, the team’s leading scorer at 21.6 ppg, scored well below his average with 14 points, most of which coming from his 8/8 shooting from the free throw line. He struggled greatly from the field, shooting just 2/13, a rate of 15.4%. While he shot the ball poorly, he did manage to rebound the ball rather well, tallying 16 boards on the night. 

Jones may be the best player on the team, but Quinerly is the Tigers’ X-factor. When he plays well, good results typically follow for the Tigers, and his 8 point, 3 assist showing was not that. This season, the Tigers are 3-3 when Quinerly scores 8 or fewer points, and are 1-4 when he has 3 or fewer assists. Clearly, the best version of this team is when Quinerly is distributing at a high level and is a reliable secondary option to Jones, but neither of those were present in last night’s game. 

Questionable Lineups 

One of the major criticisms of Penny Hardaway’s coaching style is his insistence on constant subbing and playing an abnormally large rotation, leading to awkward lineups and clunky play. That continued in this game, with ten players playing in the game, and some lineups being played that have not been used at all. 

The turning point of the game came in the second half with North Texas up 39-38, when Memphis trotted out a lineup of Jahvon Quinerly, Jonathan Pierre, Ashton and Jayden Hardaway, and Malcolm Dandridge. This is a lineup that, prior to this moment, had yet to share the floor together this year, being played at a pivotal point, in a pivotal game, and it resulted in a 10-0 North Texas run that put the game out of reach for good. 

Tournament Implications 

With this loss, the Tigers’ at large hopes are nearly finished. Save for an undefeated end to the regular season, which with the level this team has been playing at is hard to imagine, they will likely need to win the AAC tournament to receive the automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. They would best set themselves up to do that by finishing in the top 4 of the AAC standings in order to receive a first round bye. They currently sit tied for 6th, two games back of 4th. 

Next up, the Tigers go on the road to SMU on Sunday, a quadrant 1 opportunity and a team ahead of them in the standings. If they want any hope at all of an at-large berth or a bye in the AAC tournament, that game is a must win. 

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