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No. 23 Memphis looks to stay hot vs. struggling Vanderbilt

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No. 23 Memphis looks to extend an impressive four-game winning streak when it hosts Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon.

The Tigers (9-2), who cracked the Top 25 this week, have knocked off VCU, then-No. 21 Texas A&M, then-No. 13 Clemson and No. 22 Virginia since losing at Ole Miss on Dec. 2.

David Jones scored 26 points to lead a 77-54 smacking of Virginia on Tuesday. The St. John’s transfer leads the Tigers in scoring (20.8), rebounding (6.3) and steals (2.2).

The Tigers gave the Cavaliers fits with their defense, forcing 18 turnovers with 15 steals against a team that had averaged just eight turnovers coming in.

“Our identity is defense,” coach Penny Hardaway said. “That’s who we are. We’re a disruptive team. That’s our identity.”

Another transfer, Jahvon Quinerly (Alabama) ranks second in scoring (13.3) and leads Memphis in assists (4.9). Yet another high-profile transfer could make the Tigers even better.

Memphis hopes to have Kansas State transfer Nae’Quan Tomlin — who was dismissed there after an October bar fight that led to his arrest — available for Vanderbilt.

Tomlin worked out with the Tigers before Tuesday’s tip-off. Hardaway says he’ll play Saturday “if he’s eligible to play,” adding that Memphis is waiting on Kansas State to confirm Tomlin’s graduation.

“He can guard one through five,” Hardaway said, when asked what Tomlin adds. “He’s a rim protector. He’s an unbelievable rebounder. And then, on the flip side of it, he’s a playmaker. He’s a rim runner. He gets out and flies. He can make plays and he can shoot. So, for me, you just put him out there, let him get his feet wet and then we (will) just work around him.”

The Commodores (4-7) will be the third Southeastern Conference team the Tigers have played (Missouri, Arkansas) and their eighth Power 5 opponent.

Vanderbilt has lost three in a row and six of seven, the latest being Tuesday’s 63-62 home defeat at the hands of Western Carolina. Ezra Manjon (15.2 points per game) scored 18 in Tuesday’s loss, which was sealed when WCU’s Vonterius Woolbright hit a layup with 1.5 seconds left.

Pressure is mounting for coach Jerry Stackhouse, who has failed to make the NCAA Tournament in his previous four seasons. He is facing an uphill climb with the Commodores sitting at No. 297 in Thursday’s NET rankings on the heels of last season’s 22-15 NIT campaign.

“When you look at the team that we had last year, we had a lot of experience,” Stackhouse said after Tuesday’s loss. ” … And quite frankly, the guys that came back and we were counting on to take another step just haven’t played at a high enough level that we needed.”

One culprit has been senior guard Tyrin Lawrence (12.7 points per game), who’s shooting 36.8 percent from the field and has as many turnovers as assists (14).

Injuries have also hurt Vanderbilt. The school announced before Tuesday’s game that leading rebounder Colin Smith (6.6) is done for the season with an Achilles injury.

The Commodores also played without second-leading scorer and rebounder Ven-Allen Lubin (12.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg) against WCU due to a groin injury.

–Field Level Media

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