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Much-improved Tulsa a challenge for No. 15 Memphis

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As Memphis continues to rise in the rankings, coach Penny Hardaway expects more and more from his talented, veteran team.

That’s why minutes after the now-No. 15 Tigers stopped Austin Peay 81-70 Saturday for their sixth straight win, Hardaway wasn’t in much of a mood to dispense platitudes.

“My statement is I’m glad we won the game,” he said. “That’s it.”

Hardaway hopes the Tigers put him in a better postgame mood Thursday night when they open American Athletic Conference play in Tulsa, Okla., against the much-improved Golden Hurricane.

The Tigers (11-2) got 19 points from David Jones in their latest win, plus 15 points and 15 rebounds from Nae’Qwan Tomlin in just his second game of the season. And while they weren’t seriously challenged at the end, the Tigers never really put away a 7-8 team, either.

That’s why Hardaway, and to a lesser extent, Jones, voiced concern about the team’s drive.

“Let’s say we play Virginia tomorrow –we’re all hyped up, because we want to beat them,” said Jones, referring to a rout of the Cavaliers last month when both were ranked in the top 25. “Then, we say we’re gonna play Austin Peay, and it’s like, ‘Oh, we’re playing Austin Peay. We’re gonna beat them regardless.’

“These days, in college, anybody can beat anybody. So I think we just got to work on getting prepared and getting locked in for every single team, no matter who it is.”

Jones has been locked in all season, averaging 21.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Point guard Jahvon Quinerly is chipping in 13.1 points and 4.8 assists. Per kenpom.com, Memphis has paired one of college basketball’s fastest tempos (17th in Division I) with the 52nd-most-efficient offense and the 29th-most-efficient defense.

Meanwhile, Tulsa (9-3) earned its fourth straight win Friday night by walloping Division II Southwestern Oklahoma State 95-54. PJ Haggerty scored 21 points as the Golden Hurricane improved to 9-0 on their home floor.

“We did some things nicely tonight, and it was good to get a lot of guys into the game and get more experience for the younger guys,” Tulsa coach Eric Konkol said. “Any time you take an extended break, you’re always curious, especially when you have a really young team and new team, how they’ll respond.”

Tyshawn Archie tied his career high with 17 points as the Golden Hurricane put last season’s 5-25 mark further back in the rear-view mirror. Jesaiah McWright added 16 points, all in the second half, to establish a career high.

The base of Tulsa’s improvement has been defensive. It ranks 45th in kenpom in effective field-goal-percentage defense (45.1) and 21st in defensive turnover percentage, forcing 22.1 per 100 possessions. Its adjusted offensive efficiency is just 281st nationally.

Haggerty is leading the team in scoring at 17.2 points per game, while Louisiana Tech transfer Cobe Williams chips in 12.0 points and a team-high 3.5 assists. Jared Garcia adds 10.1 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds.

–Field Level Media

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