Penny Hardaway hints at 'subtle changes' to starting lineup

The Daily Memphian
The Daily Memphian

Teams: Tigers vs VCU
Time: 4 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 20
Place: FedExForum
Radio: 98.9 FM The Roar of Memphis

After Memphis’ first two games of the season, many Tigers fans wondered if the team would make any changes to its starting lineup and rotation.

Following the Tigers’ season-opening road win over Vanderbilt last week, head coach Penny Hardaway said he’d roll with the same starting five against Saint Louis because he loved its “fight.” That group — made up of guard Kendric Davis, guard Alex Lomax, guard Keonté Kennedy, forward DeAndre Williams and forward Malcolm Dandridge — was indeed the one that took the court to open the contest versus the Billikens on Tuesday, Nov. 15.

But, even though Memphis nearly pulled off a comeback victory in its 90-84 road loss to Saint Louis, the game left some with concerns about how certain pieces of the roster fit with each other.

Against the Billikens, star transfer Kendric Davis often drove and kicked to his backcourt mate, Lomax, who many times was left wide open at the 3-point line. But the fifth-year guard went 0-4 from deep and 0-8 overall. And Dandridge’s impact was limited by early foul trouble. Hardaway has said the 6-foot-9 senior is “one of the most talented bigs in the country” when he’s at his best.

“I put that schedule together for a reason,” Hardaway told reporters Friday, Nov. 18, about using a difficult non-conference slate to learn which starting five will be most effective moving forward. “There are gonna be some subtle changes for sure — or some changes (in general), because now we know where things fit.”

Though Hardaway wouldn’t elaborate on what those changes would look like, one can perhaps make some assumptions based on the performances of certain players up to this point.

Redshirt freshman guard Johnathan Lawson made his collegiate debut versus Saint Louis and looked good in limited playing time. The 6-foot-6 wing tallied eight points on 3-4 shooting in 17 minutes off the bench. It was his two 3-pointers which helped the Tigers rally back from a 12-point deficit in the first half to make it a four-point game at halftime.

“I was just ready when my name was called,” Lawson said of getting an opportunity on Tuesday after not seeing the court against Vanderbilt. “Coach Hardaway, he’s a great coach, and I know he’s gonna put me in the right position to do what I need to do when I go out there.”

And while senior forward Chandler Lawson, Jonathan Lawson’s older brother, played only sparingly versus Saint Louis, he’s a player who’s been effective in the Tigers’ frontcourt.

The 6-7 Chandler Lawson tallied six points against Vanderbilt in 17 minutes last week and used his ability to run the floor to allow Memphis to play faster and get out in transition after defensive rebounds. Against Saint Louis, he only played 12 minutes but chalked up five points and two rebounds.

Inserting Johnathan Lawson into the Memphis backcourt next to Davis and allowing Lomax to come off the bench could be a possible solution to the Tigers’ lack of floor spacing, while throwing Chandler Lawson into the frontcourt next to Williams would allow the team to play a more uptempo brand of basketball.

One can speculate all they want, but what changes Hardaway employs — and when — is still unknown.

Memphis plays VCU at 4 p.m. Sunday at FedExForum in its home-opener.

For now, Hardaway, as he usually does, is telling his players to block out the outside noise.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “you’ve still gotta know who’s in this circle and who’s in this building and understand what the mission is.”

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