No. 11 Memphis knows it cannot let its most emotional victory of the season at Tennessee last week — or the departure of top NBA prospect James Wiseman — linger.
“We have to stay locked in,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said as the Tigers bring a six-game home winning streak into a game against much-traveled Jackson State on Saturday afternoon.
“We can’t think that the Tennessee game was the last game that we have to play. We are just scratching the surface. We made it through a very tough stretch of just being locked in and being focused.
“Every practice from this point on is about perfection, even though we know we can’t be perfect. We can’t take Jackson State lightly. Everything we are doing right now has to be become a habit and be a part of us.”
Wiseman, the top NBA prospect in Memphis’ stellar freshman class, announced Thursday that he is withdrawing from school to prepare for the NBA draft. Wiseman played three games before being hit with a 12-game NCAA suspension that was to expire Jan. 12.
During his absence, the Tigers (9-1) have managed nicely. They gained two spots in the AP Top 25 this week after their 51-47 victory at Tennessee last Saturday, when Damion Baugh hit a go-ahead 3-pointer in the final two minutes and Alex Lomax sealed it with two free throws with eight seconds remaining to break the rival Volunteers’ nation-long 31-game home winning streak.
Memphis has not flinched when presented with double-digit deficits in its last two games, both on the road. The Tigers overcame a 12-point deficit early in the first half at Tennessee last week after using a 16-2 spurt in the final five minutes for a 65-57 victory at UAB on Dec. 7. The Blazers led by 20 points in the first half and 17 in the second.
“Our offensive execution has to get better,” Hardaway said. “We struggled in the U-T game to score because we played too much one-on-one basketball, so we have a lot to work on.”
Six-foot-9 freshman Precious Achiuwa is averaging 13.3 points and 9.9 rebounds while starting all 10 games. He has double-doubles in four of his last six games and double-digit rebounds in all six, tying a season high with 13 against the No. 21 Volunteers.
D. J. Jeffries, a 6-7 freshman, is averaging 12.1 points and 4.4 rebounds. Memphis has won its last four games without another top freshman, Lester Quinones, who suffered a broken hand against Mississippi and has not played since.
Lomax, a sophomore reserve guard, has been a steadying presence, shooting 58.0 percent from the field while averaging 9.0 points. He leads the team with 4.4 assists a game and has 15 steals.
“He has a big heart,” Hardaway said. “He’s a winner.”
Memphis held Tennessee to 25 percent shooting from the floor and had a 49-39 rebounding edge. Volunteers’ leading scorers Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden were 3 of 21 from the field, 1 of 11 on 3-pointers.
Jackson State took the 1,851-mile flight from Portland to Memphis after beating Portland 73-63 on Thursday night, part of its road-heavy nonconference schedule. The Tigers play 11 of their first 13 on the road. Memphis is 10th on that list.
Guard Tristan Jarrett had 31 points at Portland, his second straight 30-point game, and is averaging 18.3 points. Sophomore Jayveous McKinnis was one rebound short of his fourth double-double at Portland and is averaging 10.4 points and 8.1 rebounds while shooting .679 from the field.
“The first time he practiced, he showed the ability to play above the rim and get rebounds,” Jackson State coach Wayne Brent has said of McKinnis. “He made plays that you can’t teach.”
–Field Level Media