If you have to play a game without your preseason All-America, it helps to have the Alcorn State Braves on the other bench. The Tigers overcame sloppy play to open the game — 31 combined fouls were called in the first half — and overwhelmed their opponent from the SWAC to improve to 3-1 on the season. Memphis played without James Wiseman, the first of an undetermined number of games the freshman center will sit out as a penalty for his family accepting a payment for moving expenses from Penny Hardaway in 2017. With a lawsuit filed by the Wiseman family having been withdrawn, all parties now await a ruling from the NCAA on when the player can again take the floor.
On the floor Saturday afternoon at FedEexForum, Tiger freshman Lester Quinones
celebrated his 19th birthday with his first double-double as a college player: 21 points and 10 rebounds. The New York native hit seven of eight shots from the field and connected on six of seven free throws. "Coach [Hardaway] emphasized moving the ball, the little things," said Quinones. "Crashing the boards . . . this was an undersized [opponent]. Being an overall good teammate was my goal."
Hardaway was especially pleased with his team's defense, which forced 26 turnovers and harassed the Braves (1-3) into five-for-27 shooting from three-point range. "The guys started a little slow, but we got it going with that second unit, and the energy picked up," said Hardaway. "We were supposed to win this game. You gotta challenge yourself. We want to do things that will carry over to the Little Rock game, then get better by the Ole Miss game. So when we go play North Carolina State, we're not behind the eight ball."
Freshman forward Precious Achiuwa
scored 20 points in 23 minutes on the floor and could have had several more as he missed 12 of 20 free throws. "I'm one of the few dudes in the country who can get to the free-throw line at will," said Achiuwa. "I just gotta knock them down. There's room for improvement."
Hardaway acknowledged the all-around talents of the Tigers' birthday boy, noting they're the reason he's a Tiger today. "We saw that side of him," said the coach, "the grittiness, the toughness, the ability to get a basket, take charges, do all the small things that help teams win. We knew that when we recruited him."
Sophomore guard Tyler Harris
hit three treys and scored 11 points off the bench for Memphis. D.J. Jeffries
scored 15 points in 24 minutes off the bench and Lance Thomas
— starting in place of Wiseman — contributed 11 points in 11 minutes of action.
As for the glaring absence of their star teammate, the Tigers seem resolved to next-man-up mode. "We don't see [Wiseman's absence] as a negative," said Achiuwa. "It's an opportunity for other guys to step up. We talk to James every day: keep your head up, stay locked in. It's a team effort at the end of the day, not just an individual. We trust each other."
The Tigers will host Little Rock on Wednesday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.