MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)—Memphis overcame an early deficit and coasted to its first win of the season behind a freshman who showed flashes of his talents.
Highly touted freshman Tyreke Evans scored 19 points and No. 13 Memphis beat Fairfield 90-63 in the opening round of the Puerto Rico Tip-off Tournament on Saturday night.
Evans’ performance came despite a right ankle sprain and an upset stomach.
“Tyreke did some good stuff when he drove the ball,” Memphis coach John Calipari said. “He got to the foul line. He’s strong and limber and he moves. He did some good stuff, but he’s got a long way to go.”
Evans made seven of 12 shots, pacing five Tigers in double figures. Shawn Taggart had 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Doneal Mack also scored 14. Antonio Anderson added 12 points, and Robert Dozier finished with 10.
“I felt comfortable out there. My shot was not falling because I’ve been a little sick and my ankle’s not right,” Evans said. “(Calipari) told me to do the best to try and drive the ball.”
Warren Edney had 24 points for Fairfield (0-1), which was picked to finish second in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference this season.
Jonathan Han added 18 points and seven assists, and Greg Nero had 10 points.
With the win, Calipari tied Memphis coach Larry Finch with 220 wins, the most for a coach in Tigers history. Finch, who played for the Tigers in early 1970s and led them to the national championship game against UCLA in 1973, coached Memphis from 1986-1997.
“There’s nobody ever going to replace Larry Finch in this town. Certainly not me,” Calipari said of the milestone. “What Larry’s done in this town, what he’s done for this university, what he’s done for basketball in the city in general will never be matched. It doesn’t matter that someone comes along and wins more games than he won.”
Memphis (1-0) struggled with Fairfield’s tightly packed zone before it started working the ball inside to Taggart toward the end of the first half.
Fairfield started to wear down in the second half, allowing the Tigers to extend their lead.
Fairfield coach Ed Cooley said the Stags lost a lot of momentum when 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward Anthony Johnson picked up his second foul midway through the first half.
“When he came out of the game, I thought the game changed a bit,” Cooley said.
The Stags shot 50 percent, including 8-of-18 from 3-point range, but were hampered by 26 turnovers, 12 by Han, a preseason first-team all-conference pick. While Johnson’s foul trouble affected the game, Cooley said, the turnovers were the difference.
“The fact that we shot 50 percent against a defensive team like that is really a credit to our players,” Cooley said. “… We just turned the ball over. End of discussion. If you turn the ball over like that, in this part of town, you might as well go home.”
Fairfield led by nine early, but Memphis closed the first half with a 29-9 surge and led 45-30 at the break. Evans and Mack led the Tigers with 11 apiece.
Memphis opened the second half by pushing the ball inside to Taggart, who had two quick baskets around a dunk by Evans as the Tigers extended their lead to 21.
Despite the Tigers’ depth and the rallies in the second half, Cooley said his team was not intimidated, rattling off a litany of Stag opponents from Georgetown to Wake Forest to Boston College and UConn.
“We belong in these games,” he said. “As we mature as a program, I’m pretty sure these schools are not going to want to schedule Fairfield. Absolutely, unequivocally, we are not intimidated in any environment.”
Even with the 27-point win, Calipari still shook his head about a defense that allowed 50 percent shooting from the field, including 44 percent from 3-point range.
He noted some ball-handling struggles from Evans and fellow freshman Wesley Witherspoon, and a lack of hustle at times.
Still, he was satisfied.
“We’re going to be OK,” Calipari said. “We’ve got a ways to go. We’ve got to get better defensively. You have to.”