MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Memphis players said they were unawarebefore Wednesday night’s game that star freshman James Wiseman had beensuspended 12 games by the NCAA.
There was another culprit for the No. 16 Tigers’ poor earlyplay — a lack of respect for Arkansas-Little Rock — before Memphis escaped witha 68-58 win.
Precious Achiuwa had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and DJJeffries added 15 points — all in the first half — providing a spark for thelackadaisical Tigers (4-1).
The game was played only hours after the NCAA ruled Wiseman,the Tigers 7-foot-1 freshman and last season’s top recruit, ineligible for thenext 11 games — he’d already sat out one — for receiving impermissible benefitsfrom Memphis coach Penny Hardaway. Hardaway provide the family with $11,500 tohelp with moving expenses from Nashville to Memphis two years ago, beforeHardaway became the Tigers’ coach. After moving to Memphis, Wiseman played forEast High, where Hardaway coached.
The NCAA considered Hardaway a university booster because hedonated $1 million to the university in 2008.
Wiseman watched the game from the bench.
“We were definitely glad to find out a number. We hadbeen waiting on that,” Hardaway said.
Jeffries and Achiuwa both said they were unaware of the NCAAruling.
“I haven’t actually looked at my phone in like fourhours,” Achiuwa said, Jeffries nodding in agreement.
Hardaway said he didn’t talk about the situation with histeam.
“It is what it is right now,” he said. “Ithas taken on a life of its own. I’m sure they will see it later.”
Hardaway attributed the slow start to the team’s disregardfor the Trojans.
“I kind of got the feeling of how the locker room wasbefore the game that these kids were taking Little Rock for granted,”Hardaway said. “There wasn’t the same energy.”
Markquis Nowell led the Trojans (3-2) with 16 points, whileBen Coupet Jr. added 12 points. Ruot Monyyong had 12 points and nine reboundsand Kamani Johnson finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Nowell also had 10turnovers, representative of the sloppy play throughout the game.
“We had our chances,” Little Rock coach DarrellWalker said. “You think about it, Kamani at the rim 13 times and he misses10 layups and doesn’t get fouled. There’s nothing the coach can do about that.Markquis turns the ball over 10 times. I told him they weren’t going to let himscore all those points tonight. I told him he had to be a facilitator and adecoy.”
Memphis missed its first eight shots and by the midway pointof the first half, the Tigers (4-1) were 3 of 13 from the field and had missedall five of its 3-pointers while committing eight turnovers.
The Tigers were unable to overcome the anemic start untilless than five minutes left in the half, with Jeffries providing the spark with15 points helping Memphis take a 28-23 lead at the break.
Little Rock was within 55-53 with about five minutes left,but Memphis outscored the Trojans 13-5 the rest of the way as the Trojans gaveway to the Tigers depth.
“I don’t have all the weapons that Penny has,”Walker said. “He has a bunch of weapons, even coming off the bench. …Right now, I don’t. I got a couple of freshmen and some guys hurt. My deck isnot full, but I’m not making excuses.
“Penny’s deck is not full either.”
Little Rock: After jumping to an early 9-0 lead, the Trojansdefense played well enough to cause problems for Memphis. Little Rock stayedclose, but the visitors struggled from the foul line, going 13 of 24.
Memphis: Memphis was a mess to start the game, missing itsfirst eight shots, some of them way off the mark. Four turnovers added to theearly misery. After taking the lead late in the first half, the Tigers neverrelinquished the advantage in the second half, although Little Rock kept thegame close.
Little Rock: Travels to North Carolina State on Saturday
Memphis: Hosts Ole Miss on Saturday.