Coming off what coach Penny Hardaway called a “gut-wrenching” loss, Memphis faces unbeaten Tulane in both teams’ American Athletic Conference opener Wednesday night in New Orleans.
The Tigers (4-3) had won three games in a row before falling to Auburn 74-71 on Saturday in Atlanta.
Memphis led 63-62 with 4:11 left. Auburn took control with an 8-2 run during the next two-plus minutes.
“The most disappointing thing was they just out-toughed us,” said D.J. Jefferies, who led the Tigers with 16 points. “They got all the 50-50 balls. They got all the offensive rebounds. They did all the tough stuff.”
The Tigers shot just 28.6 percent (6 of 21) on 3-pointers and 47.8 percent (11 of 23) on free throws. Memphis is making just 65.4 percent of its free throws for the season.
“You’ve just got to make shots,” Hardaway said. “You’ve got to lock in, man, and I think the focus isn’t there always.”
The focus seems to be better on the defensive end. The Tigers have held each of their opponents to under 45 percent field-goal shooting and they have had at least 10 steals in each of their last three games.
Defense has been the key to the Green Wave’s 4-0 start. Tulane scored 20 points off of 18 turnovers in a 67-56 home victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday.
“The good thing is that we were good enough defensively,” Tulane coach Ron Hunter said. “We hang our hat on our defense and we know that we can win games with our defensive effort.”
The Green Wave held the Golden Lions to three field goals in the final 10 minutes of the game. That helped them overcome offensive difficulties against UAPB’s zone defense.
“I would rather win games and learn than lose games and learn,” Hunter said. “I give the credit to our veterans. I don’t have a lot of veterans, but our veterans won the game.”
Jaylen Forbes had a game-high 16 points and Jordan Walker scored 15 points for his third consecutive double-figure total.
Hunter is using three freshmen among his top eight players.
“I keep telling myself we are going to learn from this, and we will,” Hunter said. “It’s going to probably drive me crazy and put me in the hospital, but they have to go through it.”
–Field Level Media