With confusion and tension in the air over an intrastate series that may or may not continue, the Tigers traveled to Knoxville and beat Tennessee for their lone win this season over a team from one of the country's six power conferences. Joe Jackson led Memphis with 20 points, with Adonis Thomas (18), Geron Johnson (16), and D.J. Stephens (11) also reaching double figures.
The Tigers enjoyed a 22-8 run in the first half, taking a 14-point lead at the break after holding the Volunteers to 28-percent shooting (8 for 29). The lead reached 21 points before the Vols' Jordan McRae caught fire and connected on five three-pointers in the second half. McRae led all scorers with 26 points for the game.
Johnson connected on three-pointers after the Vols closed to within six and five points inside the game's final six minutes. Tennessee's Josh Richardson (20 points) missed a breakaway dunk that would have closed the Tiger lead to 74-68 with just under three minutes to play.
The Tigers' Chris Crawford hit a pair of clutch free throws with 41 seconds left to give Memphis an 81-75 lead and all the points they'd need.
The victory improves the Tigers' record to 10-3 entering Conference USA play and ends a week of head-scratching debate over whether the series with Tennessee should be a thing of the past (ask coach Josh Pastner) or extended into the future (ask U of M athletic director Tom Bowen). Regardless of your stance on the issue, tonight's win will prove to be among the Tigers' most valuable when it comes to RPI rankings, particularly if the Vols can pull off an upset over the likes of Kentucky or Florida in SEC play.
Perhaps worthy of note: Pastner is now 3-2 against Tennessee. His record against other power-conference teams: 4-12.
The Tigers host East Carolina next Wednesday at FedExForum.