After an 11-2 finish to the non-conference slate that saw Memphis secure wins over No. 20 Arkansas, No. 21 Texas A&M, No. 13 Clemson, and No. 22 Virginia, American Athletic Conference play has been a slog for the Tigers.
Despite starting off in-conference 4-0, Memphis followed it up with four straight losses to USF, Tulane, UAB, and Rice. However, the last three games have sparked a bounce back for the Tigers to get above .500 in the AAC, starting with a tightly contested 65-63 win over Wichita State led by 26 points from DePaul and St. John’s transfer David Jones.
To follow it up this past Thursday, the Tigers staved off a late comeback push from Temple for an 84-77 win on the road and the program’s sixth win of the in-conference schedule.
Leading the way once again was Jones with a double-double of 23 points, 10 boards, four assists, and six steals.
“Honestly, David Jones came to play and he does so very efficiently,” said Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway. “When you go on the road, your game is supposed to ramp up if you’re that guy and that’s what [Jones] does all the time.”
While Jones has been the main transfer contributor for the Tigers this season, former Alabama guard Jahvon Quinerly was right behind him with 19 points and six assists to squash Temple’s resurgence.
Pivotal to the win was Memphis’ depth with Division II transfer Jonathan Pierre notching a career-high 10 points off the bench while Nick Jourdain, a Temple transfer, got some revenge on his old team with 10 points and three boards.
“Pierre’s been having a better attitude which is making him play better basketball,” said Hardaway. “I train him so I know his talent and he is the most skilled player on the team. I’ve been wanting to play him and he was locked in today because his entire energy on this trip was good.”
As for Jourdain, Hardaway throughout he offered a lot in a return to Philadelphia after battling through some early nerves.
“Obviously in the beginning of the game he was very nervous and shot two really tough shots,” said Hardaway. “All of a sudden he calmed down, and started playing basketball the way he knows how to play.”
Rounding out the performance was Kansas State transfer Nae’Qwan Tomlin, who joined the Tigers in late December and managed 11 points and five rebounds in the win.
“We got some stops and then we made some baskets, obviously we didn’t make the free throw’s but we made timely baskets when we had to,” Hardaway said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game. [Temple’s] been in every game [they’ve played] so you’ve got to really push away from them.”
To complete the Tigers third consecutive win for a 7-4 record in the AAC, Memphis returned home and beat out Tulane 90-78 despite the Green Wave producing six double-digit scorers.
Jones, of course, managed a double-double with 23 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists, while Quinerly and Tomlin added 18 points and 16 points respectively in the starting lineup.
After a loss at Tulane in mid-January, Hardaway denied calling it a revenge game but spoke on the importance a win would mean for Memphis.
“Us struggling in conference, losing three out of four games by one possession, and dropping out of the national rankings, you’ve got to cherish every win no matter what it takes or how it looks,” said Hardaway. “[Against Tulane] I don’t know if I’d say revenge because it’s just we’ve got to get the win.”
Now, with just seven games left on the Tigers AAC slate, they sit sixth in the conference standings with an opportunity to extend this win streak at North Texas on Thursday.
Heading into that final push of the season, every win will be critical for Hardaway and Co. to have a shot at making this Memphis’ third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.