Things just weren’t quite there for Memphis basketball against Alabama State Friday night.
Yes, the Tigers won, but they didn’t look like the team they were in last week’s road victory at Missouri. They instead looked more like the team they were against Jackson State in the regular season opener, or against LeMoyne-Owen in their second exhibition game. The Tigers—even in a 92-75 victory—looked like a sloppy, discombobulated basketball team inside FedExForum.
“I’ma be honest, I wasn’t really happy with the way we played tonight,” point guard Jahvon Quinerly said. “Letting a team come in here and get that many offensive rebounds on us—honestly, it’s unacceptable.”
The “that many” number Quinerly is referring to is 25. Alabama State, who Quinerly said “out-toughed” Memphis, recorded 25 offensive rebounds against a Memphis team with 11 players that are at least 6-foot-5 or higher. Memphis only won the total rebounding battle 50-42, and lost the turnover battle by 10. The Tigers finished with 18 turnovers compared to just 8 for the Hornets.
Three different Alabama State players finished with 14 points or more. And though the Hornets shot 31% from the field, they also lit the Tigers up from deep by shooting 38% from beyond the arc. Tony Madlock’s team even went on a 7-0 run in the middle of the first half to cut Memphis’ lead to 31-30 with 5:12 to go until halftime.
David Jones, however, saved the day soon after. The 6-foot-6 transfer from St. John’s scored 13 points in the final 4:52 of the first half. He also made 3 perimeter shots in that stretch, including one to beat the first half buzzer that lifted Memphis’ lead to 47-36 at the break. Jones—a game-time decision due to a tweaked ankle—finished the contest with 22 points and 10 rebounds, a team-high in both categories. But Quinerly wasn’t too far behind, recording 16 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists.
“I just felt in that moment that we needed somebody to bring energy to the game,” Jones said. “With the couple buckets that I got at the end of the [first half], we came out in the second half with more energy…I was just trying to help my team win the game.”
Memphis did come out with more energy in the second half, but so did Alabama State. The Hornets made 3 shots from beyond the arc in the first 5:05 of the period, and cut the Tigers’ lead to 55-49. They later trimmed the deficit to 58-53 with 13:24 left in the game. That’s when Memphis decided it finally had enough. The Tigers outscored the Hornets 34-22 from that point on.
Memphis assistant Rick Stansbury, who filled for Penny Hardaway one final time prior to the latter’s 3-game suspension coming to an end, wasn’t necessarily surprised by the Tigers’ struggles at times. After all, Alabama State is a team that heavily tested Chris Beard’s Ole Miss Rebels at The Pavilion last week. The Hornets lost that game 69-59.
“We knew going into this game this was gonna be one of those trap games,” Stansbury said. “When you’re coming out of Missouri, you played so well and everybody’s kinda patting you on the back a little bit. Everybody’s talking about The Bahamas and all that. Well unfortunately, there’s a pretty good team laying there before we can do all that: and that’s Alabama State. I think Alabama State was the aggressor for most of the night….[25 offensive rebounds] is just a bad stat.”
But Stansbury still sees some positive takeaways from a game like this.
“There’s a lesson learned from it,” he said. “There’s no such thing as an ugly W. They don’t exist…This was [Alabama State’s] Super Bowl. You gotta find that edge. As a coach, you wish you could play at that same edge every night but it doesn’t exist. You just gotta hope—on those nights that you’re not quite there—you can find ways to win.”
As Stansbury noted, the Tigers now turn their attention towards the Battle 4 Atlantis in The Bahamas. They’ll open the tournament on Wednesday against Michigan, who lost to Long Beach State on Friday. Memphis will then play either Arkansas, who lost to UNC-Greensboro Friday, or Stanford on Thanksgiving. It’ll finish the week against North Carolina, Villanova, Texas Tech or Northern Iowa depending on how the bracket shapes out.
Quinerly—as someone who’s won a bunch of high-stakes games throughout his collegiate career—knows the importance of Memphis getting victories while overseas next week. He knows the Tigers must avoid the sloppiness they displayed Friday night to earn said victories.
“Being in the American Conference, we need every Quad 1 win that we can get,” Quinerly said. “That’s why going to Mizzou and beating them to get our first Quad 1 was big-time. We’re looking to do the same thing in The Bahamas. I think [our] guys have the right mindset going in, but it’s definitely huge for us. It’s huge.”