"It's a mental thing. I'm back to myself." — Alex Lomax
On a team dominated by its freshmen, sophomore guard Alex Lomax
has seized the role of "glue guy," the oft-celebrated player who does what's necessary — regardless of circumstance — to make winning easier. The pride of East High School (and longtime protege of Tiger coach Penny Hardaway) came off the bench Tuesday night at FedExForum and led Memphis with 17 points, hitting four of seven shots from the field and nine of 12 from the free throw line to help his team to a fifth straight victory. Now 7-1, the 15th-ranked Tigers remain undefeated (5-0) since another former Mustang — freshman center James Wiseman — began an NCAA-mandated 12-game suspension last month.
The win made ugly look pretty. The Bradley Braves had more offensive rebounds (23) than they did field goals (22). The visitors put up 21 more shots than did the Tigers and still lost by 15 points. Former Germantown High standout Darrell Brown entered the game averaging 14.0 points per game for Bradley and missed 15 of 16 shots in front of friends and family. The Tigers led big early (12-4), stretched the lead to 10 (29-19) by halftime, and never allowed the Braves (5-3) close enough to threaten the outcome. Nonetheless, it was not a game Hardaway, Lomax, or any member of the Memphis team will call upon for year-end highlights.
"Once we got a nice lead, we got a little complacent," said Lomax, now shooting 62 percent from the field this season. "We're a young team, still have a lot to learn. We learned some things not
to do [tonight]. We gotta toughen up. This was a bad game for us."
"This was almost like a trap game for us," said Hardaway. "They are definitely capable of beating us. For us to come out and scrap through . . . it was ugly, because they kind of just hung around. It's a little disappointing, but we'll definitely take the win." Hardaway acknowledged the handful Bradley forward Elijah Childs became, with 21 points and 14 rebounds. But holding Brown and Nate Kennell to a combined two field goals (on 24 shots) was the difference.
pulled down 14 rebounds for the Tigers but fell short of a fourth consecutive double-double with only six points, as he missed 10 of 13 shots from the field. "They had his number," said Hardaway. "They shrunk the paint and let him come to them. They didn't foul him." D.J. Jeffries
scored 10 points and pulled down nine rebounds and fellow freshman Boogie Ellis
added 12 points. Ellis took a hard fall on his back after being fouled on a dunk attempt in the second half, but continued to play.
Count Hardaway among the most grateful for Lomax's emergence, and not just on a night in early December when he was needed in the scoring column. "What happened with Alex last year happens to a lot of freshmen," said Hardaway. "They try to do more than what they're supposed to do. They get away from their own game. Alex has always been an energy player, a great defender, get the team involved, get to the basket, get to the foul line. Last year he tried to become a jump-shooter. Now he's letting the game come to him."
The Tigers travel to Birmingham to face old rival UAB Saturday afternoon (tip-off scheduled for 4:30 p.m.). A week later, they cross the state to face Tennessee in Knoxville. They'll return to FedExForum to host Jackson State on December 21st.