Tigers Survive Scare in Conference Opener
Jahvon Quinerly hit a clutch three-pointer with five seconds left to lift No. 15 Memphis to a 78-75 win over Tulsa on Thursday night. The shot capped a career-high 26 point performance for Quinerly and spoiled a 23 point effort from Tulsa’s Sam Griffin.
Memphis struggled early, falling behind by as much as 11 points in the first half. However, Quinerly took over offensively in the second frame, scoring 21 of his 26 points to bring the Tigers back. His step-back triple with five ticks remaining ultimately lifted Memphis to victory.
“It was a tough shot, but I work on shots like that all summer,” Quinerly said. “I just had confidence in myself and my ability to make a play.”
Tulsa led 71-70 with 1:10 left after Griffin knocked down a jumper. But DeAndre Williams made a layup on the other end to give Memphis a 72-71 advantage. After Tulsa missed a three on their next possession, the Tigers extended the lead to 75-71 on a Keonte Kennedy triple with 14 seconds to go.
That’s when things got crazy.
First Brandon Betson hit a quick three for Tulsa to make it 75-74. Then Kennedy missed two free throws on the other end, setting up Griffin’s go-ahead jumper with seven seconds left. Quinerly then calmly dribbled up court and pulled up from 25 feet for the cold-blooded triple.
“What a game, I’m just happy we found a way,” said Memphis coach Penny Hardaway. “You have to survive and advance sometimes, and we did that today.”
Second Half Shooting Fuels Memphis Comeback
It was a tale of two halves for Memphis. The Tigers started slow, falling behind 37-29 at the break while shooting just 39% from the floor. Tulsa used smothering defense and 11 first half points from Griffin to control the first 20 minutes.
“We looked tight to start,” Hardaway admitted. “It took us awhile to settle in and get comfortable.”
But Memphis roared out of halftime looking like a completely different team. They made six of their first nine attempts, including a pair of Quinerly triples, slicing the deficit to 46-45. It set the stage for a back-and-forth second stanza that featured eight lead changes.
“We just challenged the guys at halftime,” Hardaway said. “We told them to attack and play free.”
For the game, Memphis shot 54% in the second half compared to just 39% for Tulsa. Quinerly scored 14 straight Tigers points during one stretch, showcasing his expanded offensive arsenal. The senior guard did damage both inside the arc and from long range.
“I’m more versatile as a scorer now,” Quinerly stated. “It opens up driving lanes when teams have to guard me out to 25, 30 feet.”
Quinerly has taken on more responsibility following the season-ending injury to Kendric Davis. He has now led the Tigers in scoring in five straight contests.
Memphis Survives Despite Missing Free Throws, Turnovers
Despite Quinerly’s late-game magic, Memphis didn’t make things easy on itself. The Tigers blew a four-point lead in the final 30 seconds thanks largely to missed free throws and turnovers.
Memphis turned it over 12 times leading to 16 Tulsa points. Hardaway’s team also left the door open by going just 13-of-22 (59%) at the charity stripe.
Most glaringly, Kennedy missed a pair of free throws with 14 seconds left and Memphis clinging to a 75-71 edge. Those misses allowed Tulsa to stay within striking distance for Griffin’s go-ahead basket.
“We have to do a better job closing,” Hardaway admitted. “The missed free throws, the turnovers…that’s something we will address.”
On the plus side, Memphis only surrendered six second chance points despite allowing 14 offensive rebounds. They also scored 15 points off 12 Tulsa turnovers.
In total, it was an uneven performance that still resulted in a key early conference victory. Survive and advance, something Memphis has become accustomed to this year.
Memphis Opens AAC Play 1-0 For Second Straight Season
With the heart-stopping win, Memphis improved to 13-2 overall and a perfect 1-0 in American Athletic Conference play. It marks the second straight year the Tigers have won their league opener under Hardaway.
Last January, Memphis edged rival Cincinnati at home by a 92-89 score. That began a 7-2 start in conference action before injuries derailed the Tigers’ season.
| Season | AAC Opener | Result
2023 | vs Cincinnati | W, 92-89
2024 | at Tulsa | W, 78-75
“It’s always good to get that first one,” Hardaway said. “Now we can build off this and try to go on a run in league play.”
At 1-0, Memphis sits tied atop the AAC standings with UCF and Houston. The Tigers just edged out Tulsa (9-6, 0-1 AAC) and will face Temple on Sunday.
What’s Next For Memphis and Tulsa
Memphis will return home to welcome Temple on Sunday afternoon. Tipoff against the Owls is set for 1 p.m. CT on ESPN2.
The Tigers crushed Temple 81-54 when the teams met in Philadelphia last March. Memphis will be heavily favored again but can’t afford to overlook an Owls team with a new coach and renewed energy.
For Tulsa, they’ll host Cincinnati on Sunday evening at 5 p.m. CT. It’s a matchup of 0-1 AAC teams both hungry to get in the win column.
The Golden Hurricane have won seven straight at home and will need to continue that run to avoid falling into an early hole in conference play. Memphis entered as the favorite but Tulsa showed they have enough talent to compete with anyone.
“I’m proud of our guys for battling against a Top 15 team,” Tulsa coach Eric Konkol said. “We made some key mistakes late that cost us but we’ll learn from this game.”
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