MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — No. 9 Memphis finally controlled its turnovers and had a season high in assists. That combination helped the Tigers take a successful first step in American Athletic Conference play.
Lester Quinones scored 16 points, Damion Baugh finished with 15 and Memphis weathered a second-half rally to defeat Tulane 84-73 on Monday night in the teams’ conference opener.
Memphis committed only 12 turnovers, about half of its miscues in each of the last two games. The Tigers recorded a season-high 24 assists.
“We have to share the basketball, and those 24 assists are a product of five guys finishing in double figures,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said.
Precious Achiuwa finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds as Memphis (12-1, 1-0 AAC) won its 10th straight.
“Coaches emphasize every single day in practice: ‘We’ve got to cut down on the turnovers. Cut down on the turnovers,’” Quinones said. “So rather than making those full court, long passes or those flashy passes, we’re starting now to just run the offense.”
K.J. Lawson, who was at Memphis for two seasons, led Tulane with 22 points. Christion Thompson added 17. Jordan Walker finished with 13, including nine straight points as Tulane (8-5, 0-1) tried to rally down the stretch.
For Lawson, it was an emotional night and one in which he wanted to show fans — who once cheered him but booed him during the game — his talents.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said of returning to his former home arena. “I wanted to come out and get a win against a Top 10 team. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and see what we can draw up. I’m just happy with what we’ve got moving forward.”
Tulane did make Memphis fans a little nervous down the stretch. The Tigers held a double-digit lead with seven minutes left, but Tulane, behind Lawson and Walker, chipped away. The Green Wave got within 74-71 with 3:33 left and trailed 77-73 with 2:37 left.
But Memphis scored the game’s final seven points.
“This is the first time we’ve all been in this together,” Hunter said of Tulane faltering at the end. “I’m really proud of my kids. I know where this program is going, and I know what we’re already getting done.”
Meanwhile, Hardaway recognized his team’s improvement in both the assists and limiting turnovers.
“You’re going to have between eight and 12,” Hardaway said of turnovers. “That’s going to happen with the way that we play. If we can keep it around there, we’re going to be very successful in this league.”
Tulane: This was a much better Tulane team than the one that was winless last season in AAC play. Using graduate transfers such as Lawson, the Green Wave made the game competitive and only their failure to score in the closing minutes of each half stymied their chances. “Those days of Tulane struggling are over. … I’ll guarantee you that,” Hunter said.
Memphis: The Tigers were able to cut down on the turnovers that plagued them the last two games. Memphis had only 12 miscues, about half of what it committed in its previous two wins. Shooting 54% for the game helped Memphis maintain its advantage as Tulane made a late run.
When asked about the Memphis fans booing him, Lawson initially tried to downplay it. “You know, it really doesn’t matter,” Lawson said. “A prophet is always hated in his own times. … I love Memphis at the end of the day. I want to buy a house in Memphis.”
Tulane coach Ron Hunter expressed his displeasure with the booing. “I thought it was very disrespectful.”
Eventually, Lawson became emotional about the return.
Tulane: Hosts Cincinnati on Saturday.
Memphis: Hosts Georgia on Saturday.