"Let's make a statement. When we got up 20, Coach [Hardaway] said, 'Let's get up 25.'"
— Memphis guard Tyler Harris
The Tigers have yet to beat a ranked opponent under rookie coach Penny Hardaway, but on Sunday afternoon at FedExForum, they thoroughly dismantled the team picked by league coaches to win the American Athletic Conference. Despite the presence of towering (7'6") UCF center Tacko Fall, the Tigers dominated the glass, pulling down 46 rebounds (21 offensive) against the Knights' 28. After a miserable shooting performance last Thursday at Temple, the Tigers hit eight three-pointers to hand UCF its worst loss of the season and only fourth overall.
"Shot selection is the main thing for us," said Hardaway. "We can get into situations where we feel like we can make anything, and we'll start taking anything. I can count maybe three bad shots today, but they didn't hurt us."
The Tigers enjoyed a comfortable lead throughout the game (38-28 at halftime), but put the contest away over a three-minute stretch early in the second half. Tyler Harris
opened a barrage of three-pointers to give Memphis a 43-31 lead. By the time the freshman guard hit another — after Raynere Thornton
and Isaiah Maurice
each connected — the Tiger lead was 52-36, and the crowd of 17,046 achieved full energizing capacity.
"When we buckle down and stick to the game plan, we can be really good in this league," emphasized Hardaway. "If we stay as a team, and listen to the coaching staff, this game shows we can play with anybody in the country. UCF is a really good team. They only had three losses, by a combined 11 points. Only one loss in conference play. They've been playing solid for a couple of years under Coach [Johnny] Dawkins."
Senior center Mike Parks
noted the impact of two weeks of rebounding drills, an area of concern for Memphis over the season's first six weeks. In just 19 minutes off the bench, Parks scored 13 points and pulled down eight rebounds. Senior forward Raynere Thornton
had a double-double (11 points and 11 rebounds). "I've told Ray to go rebound, and the points will come," said Hardaway.
Harris led Memphis in the scoring column with 14 points. Jeremiah Martin
had 10 points and seven assists, and Kyvon Davenport
scored 11 points to help the Tigers improve to 13-7 for the season (5-2 in the AAC). UCF falls to 15-4 (5-2). Freshman Alex Lomax
contributed eight points, three assists, and two steals in 21 minutes off the bench.
"It's always good to see guys stick with what we teach," said Hardaway. "Old-school teaching is defense first, offense second. In today's game, it's not popular to play defense. A lot of the guys in the NBA don't play D, and that's what college kids mimic. To see this game today — holding a really good team to 57 points — it can be done. It was done with energy and toughness, and it was consistent."
The Tigers' next two games will be on the road, at Tulsa Wednesday, then at USF next Saturday. They return to FedExForum on February 7th to host Cincinnati, one of two remaining teams (with Houston) with only one league loss.