Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Tulsa 95, Tigers 79

Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2019 at 9:28 PM

Three days after a so-called "statement win" over UCF, the Tigers found themselves on the receiving end of a statement at Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane — 2-6 in the American Athletic Conference at tip-off — seized command over the game's opening ten minutes and cruised to the victory. Daquan Jeffries played like the all-conference candidate he is, scoring a game-high 25 points. Curran Scott added 20 to help Tulsa improve to 13-9 for the season.

Freshman guard Tyler Harris scored 18 points — all of them after halftime — to help Memphis stay within nine or ten points late in the contest, but the Tigers couldn't slow the Tulsa attack for any comeback to prove fruitful. The Tigers got no closer than nine points (80-71 with 4:45 to play) after trailing by 17 (48-31) at halftime. The loss is the Tigers' fourth straight at Tulsa.

Kyvon Davenport scored 12 points and pulled down 14 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season. Jeremiah Martin and Raynere Thornton added 14 points each. The Tigers shot 41 percent from the field (Tulsa hit 55 percent) and fell to 13-8 for the season (5-3 in the AAC). Memphis suffered 17 turnovers while handing out but 12 assists.

Now 1-4 in true road games this season, the Tigers visit USF (14-6) Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 11 a.m.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Tigers 77, UCF 57

Posted By on Sun, Jan 27, 2019 at 6:41 PM

"Let's make a statement. When we got up 20, Coach [Hardaway] said, 'Let's get up 25.'"
— Memphis guard Tyler Harris

The Tigers have yet to beat a ranked opponent under rookie coach Penny Hardaway, but on Sunday afternoon at FedExForum, they thoroughly dismantled the team picked by league coaches to win the American Athletic Conference. Despite the presence of towering (7'6") UCF center Tacko Fall, the Tigers dominated the glass, pulling down 46 rebounds (21 offensive) against the Knights' 28. After a miserable shooting performance last Thursday at Temple, the Tigers hit eight three-pointers to hand UCF its worst loss of the season and only fourth overall.
Raynere Thornton - LARRY KUZNIEWKSI
  • Larry Kuzniewksi
  • Raynere Thornton

"Shot selection is the main thing for us," said Hardaway. "We can get into situations where we feel like we can make anything, and we'll start taking anything. I can count maybe three bad shots today, but they didn't hurt us."

The Tigers enjoyed a comfortable lead throughout the game (38-28 at halftime), but put the contest away over a three-minute stretch early in the second half. Tyler Harris opened a barrage of three-pointers to give Memphis a 43-31 lead. By the time the freshman guard hit another — after Raynere Thornton and Isaiah Maurice each connected — the Tiger lead was 52-36, and the crowd of 17,046 achieved full energizing capacity.

"When we buckle down and stick to the game plan, we can be really good in this league," emphasized Hardaway. "If we stay as a team, and listen to the coaching staff, this game shows we can play with anybody in the country. UCF is a really good team. They only had three losses, by a combined 11 points. Only one loss in conference play. They've been playing solid for a couple of years under Coach [Johnny] Dawkins."

Senior center Mike Parks noted the impact of two weeks of rebounding drills, an area of concern for Memphis over the season's first six weeks. In just 19 minutes off the bench, Parks scored 13 points and pulled down eight rebounds. Senior forward Raynere Thornton had a double-double (11 points and 11 rebounds). "I've told Ray to go rebound, and the points will come," said Hardaway.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Alex Lomax

Harris led Memphis in the scoring column with 14 points. Jeremiah Martin had 10 points and seven assists, and Kyvon Davenport scored 11 points to help the Tigers improve to 13-7 for the season (5-2 in the AAC). UCF falls to 15-4 (5-2). Freshman Alex Lomax contributed eight points, three assists, and two steals in 21 minutes off the bench.

"It's always good to see guys stick with what we teach," said Hardaway. "Old-school teaching is defense first, offense second. In today's game, it's not popular to play defense. A lot of the guys in the NBA don't play D, and that's what college kids mimic. To see this game today — holding a really good team to 57 points — it can be done. It was done with energy and toughness, and it was consistent."

The Tigers' next two games will be on the road, at Tulsa Wednesday, then at USF next Saturday. They return to FedExForum on February 7th to host Cincinnati, one of two remaining teams (with Houston) with only one league loss.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Temple 85, Tigers 76

Posted By on Thu, Jan 24, 2019 at 8:26 PM

The Tigers managed to stay in Thursday night's game at Temple despite one of the worst shooting performances in the history of the program. The Tigers missed 22 of their 23 attempts from three-point range, yet trailed by only four points (73-69) with four minutes left to play. Shizz Alston buried a three-pointer (his only one) with 2:20 to play to extend the Owls' lead to eight (80-72) and all but end the Tigers' three-game winning streak.

Quinton Rose scored 18 points in the game's fist 13 minutes, helping Temple to a 25-8 lead, the margin peaking at 20 points in the first half. But an 18-10 Tiger run closed the score to 41-33 at halftime and Memphis pulled within three points (45-42) on a Jeremiah Martin layup just over three minutes into the second half. But the Tigers never found their long-range touch, while the Owls connected on 10 of 27 three-point attempts (including seven of their first nine).

Rose led Temple (now 15-4, 5-1 in the American Athletic Conference) with 26 points. Martin led the Tigers with 28 points while Kareem Brewton added 15 and Raynere Thornton 14. Saddled by foul trouble, Kyvon Davenport was limited to seven points (less than half his average).

The Tigers drop to 12-7 with the loss and are now 4-2 in AAC play. They return to FedExForum Sunday to host UCF. Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Tigers 83, SMU 61

Posted By on Sat, Jan 19, 2019 at 6:46 PM

It's one thing for the 2018-19 Tigers to don uniforms that say "Memphis State." It's quite another for the team to take the floor and play like the 1984-85 Memphis State Tigers.

After a pregame boost from an actual member of that 1985 Final Four team (Dwight Boyd, the team's director of player personnel: "You gotta represent. This is Memphis State."), the Tigers roared as thoroughly as they have in Penny Hardaway's rookie season as head coach. After taking a 13-0 lead over the game's first seven minutes, the Tigers only made life more uncomfortable for the SMU Mustangs. Senior guard Kareem Brewton Jr. set a career high for three-pointers (5) before halftime. (Brewton's initial reaction to the throwback jerseys: "These are too cold.")
Kareem Brewton Jr. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Kareem Brewton Jr.

By the time Kyvon Davenport threw down a dunk midway through the second half — the resulting electricity seemed to make the 1985 NCAA tournament banner shimmer — the Tigers had almost doubled SMU (59-32) on the scoreboard. A crowd of 16,673 relished the rest of the contest as Memphis improved to 12-6 for the season and 4-1 in the American Athletic Conference.

"We had a full week to prepare for this team, and we left no stone unturned," said Hardaway. "I couldn't be more proud of the guys. The energy was crazy from the beginning. We're starting to believe in what we're doing. As a team, as a family. This is exactly what I've been looking for when it comes to punching first. We have them prepared for every scenario, so there's no excuse, except for the energy."

"Coach put up a 'hustle board,'" noted Brewton, "for counting charges, rebounds, getting loose balls. We came out with energy. And we were running; that's what we do best." Brewton hit six of his 11 attempts from three-point range and finished with a game-high 20 points in his third consecutive start.

Brewton wasn't the only "Memphis State" star. Raynere Thornton pulled down a career-high 14 rebounds and scored 11 points. Jeremiah Martin scored a pedestrian (for him) eight points, but dished out 11 assists, tying a career high. Davenport scored 12 points, freshman Tyler Harris hit four three-pointers and scored 14 off the bench. Senior forward Mike Parks Jr. hit five of six shots from the field and scored 11 points.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Penny Hardaway

"I met with Nike at the Final Four last year and really begged for the Memphis State uniforms," said Hardaway. "The uniforms are great, but the play was even better. They reminded me of my old uniforms. I didn't think they'd respond the way they did. They went crazy; it gave them some extra energy."

The Tigers held SMU to 36-percent shooting from the field. They forced 21 turnovers (and only committed 12). The Mustangs' top scorer, Jahmal McMurray, was held to six points, a dozen under his season average. McMurray was 0-for-8 from three-point range. SMU drops to 11-7 (3-3 in the AAC).

Hardaway emphasized the value Brewton is bringing, drawing a contrast between the player he is now with his play as a junior last season. "Last year's team felt it was entitled to come in and get minutes," said the coach. "We had some disappointed guys early [this season], because they weren't getting minutes. Kareem was one of those guys. To see this process, [Kareem] working hard, buying in, and getting rewarded for it . . . I love that. That's what life is all about. When you earn it, it's better. He's working his butt off."

The Tigers remain one of five teams in the AAC with only one league loss. Their next game will be on the road Thursday against another of those teams, Temple (14-4, 4-1).

NOTE: Through 18 games, the Tigers have scored a total of 743 points before halftime and 743 points after the break.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Tigers 83, Tulane 79

Posted By on Sun, Jan 13, 2019 at 7:29 PM

The Tigers withstood a late run by Tulane in a near-empty Devlin Fieldhouse Sunday to secure their second straight win and sixth in seven games. (The New Orleans Saints were hosting an NFL playoff game at the same time.) Senior guard Jeremiah Martin scored a season-high 27 points and converted a critical layup with less than a minute to play to give Memphis a five-point lead (79-74). Martin's free throws with 13 seconds left proved to be the final points of the game as the Tigers improved to 11-6 for the season and 3-1 in the American Athletic Conference.

Through Sunday's games, Memphis is one of five AAC teams with only one loss, UCF being the lone undefeated team in league play.

The Tigers raced out to a 22-9 lead against the Green Wave (4-12, 0-4) and were up 15 (49-34) at halftime, thanks largely to Martin's 8-of-10 shooting from the field. (With his 27 points, Martin passed Ronnie Robinson, Otis Jackson, and Vincent Askew on the Tigers' career scoring chart and now ranks 31st.) They led 74-62 before Tulane surged, closing the Tiger lead to two (74-72) with just under three minutes to play.

Junior forward Isaiah Maurice missed a dunk attempt but was fouled and hit one of his two shots for a 75-72 Memphis lead. Kevin Zhang (25 points) missed a jumper and Maurice followed with a reverse layup in a crowded lane for a 77-72 Tiger advantage with 1:15 on the clock. Blake Paul (15 points off the bench) converted a layup for Tulane, but Martin answered with his clutch layup to all but secure the victory.

Kyvon Davenport scored 17 points for the Tigers and Raynere Thornton added 12. Tulane commanded the glass, pulling down 42 rebounds (15 on the offensive end) to the Tigers' 33.

Memphis has now won six straight games against its longtime rivals from New Orleans. (The teams will play at FedExForum on February 20th.)

The Tigers now have five days off before hosting SMU (11-5, 3-1) on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Tigers 78, East Carolina 72

Posted By on Thu, Jan 10, 2019 at 11:48 PM

Penny Hardaway did not look or sound like a victorious coach late Thursday night in the media room at FedExForum. When asked to assess his team's win over the East Carolina Pirates — a team fresh off an upset of Cincinnati — Hardaway insisted his players must collectively change their mindset to achieve any measure of success.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Antwann Jones

"We took two freshmen [Tyler Harris and Antwann Jones] out of the starting lineup and replaced them with seniors [Kareem Brewton and Kyvon Davenport]," explained Hardaway, "because [the freshmen] were being too lax, had to be pushed every day in practice. You can't come to practice half-assed, going through the motions. We're trying to get better. How you practice is how you play. They took the challenge. But I'm really disappointed in the seniors, falling behind early."

The lineup change, as Hardaway made clear, yielded mixed results. Despite starting five seniors, the Tigers fell behind by 15 points (33-18) over the game's first 12 minutes. Only a pair of three-pointers in the final minute before halftime — one by Davenport, the other by Harris — made the deficit (40-36) at the break feel close. Considering the energy deficit at tip-off, it could have been much worse.

"We can build off this and learn from our mistakes," acknowledged Davenport, who scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season. "Come out with more energy for the next game."

When the Tigers finally did energize, the benched freshmen were key components. Harris led Memphis with 16 points and connected on four three-pointers while Jones scored 10 points, handed out three assists, and picked up three steals. But there can be more, if you listen to their coach.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tyler Harris

"We're trying to create a culture around here where you're working hard every second," said Hardaway. "When we're at the practice facility and when we're on the court. They're coming back next year. I want them to be able to tell the new guys, 'This is the way we do it around here.' You've got to set a standard."

The Tigers finally took the lead (61-60) on a pair of free throws by Jeremiah Martin midway through the second half. The game was tied at 65 with 7:47 to play before the U of M took control for good, Davenport dunking the ball on a feed from Harris and Harris delivering a trey that proved to be the dagger.

The win improves Memphis to 10-6 and 2-1 in the American Athletic Conference while ECU falls to 8-7 (1-2).

"I'm so competitive," said Hardaway. "I went with a [starting lineup] that started most games last year. I felt we were in good hands. For the seniors to start out without much energy — after not making the NCAA tournament last year, not making the NIT — it speaks volumes.

"The team chemistry is getting better. It's not going to move forward without the seniors. They have to talk to the freshmen. I don't know if they're doing a good job of that. We're coaching, we're teaching. But those guys have to lead us."

Freshman guard Alex Lomax only played two minutes, suffering an upper-body injury on a collision early in the game. (Hardaway couldn't confirm if Lomax had undergone concussion protocol.) Junior Isaiah Maurice absorbed some of Lomax's minutes off the bench and scored 10 points. Brewton hit all five of his shots from the field and added 13 points.

The Tigers will get a chance to re-energize Sunday when they travel to New Orleans to face Tulane (4-11).

Monday, January 7, 2019

Numbers Game

Posted By on Mon, Jan 7, 2019 at 9:01 AM

Herewith, six numeric takes on an already memorable Tiger basketball season.

90 — From his opening press conference as Tiger coach, Penny Hardaway has stressed a desire to run opponents out of FedExForum, to leave players in dark jerseys gasping for breath at the first media timeout. There are various ways to measure the pace of a basketball team: number of possessions, number of shots, frequency of turnovers (for either team). But the best measure of a fast team is in the scoring column. The Tigers recently sprinted through five consecutive games in which they scored at least 90 points, a streak unmatched in these parts since the 1975-76 season (when Bill Cook and Marion Hilliard were leading the Tigers to the NCAA tournament). Memphis has struggled at times (including shooting accuracy from the field), but it hasn't been muddy basketball at FedExForum. As the current team continues to grow — yes, college teams can grow after New Year's Day — Penny's pace may indeed end a game or two before halftime.
Kyvon Davenport - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Kyvon Davenport

0 — Kyvon Davenport's uniform number has become a paradoxical reflection of his value to this team. After a rocky first five minutes in last week's AAC opener against Wichita State, Hardaway was pleading (loudly) for his team to get Davenport the basketball. They did. And the senior, freshly shorn of his signature dreadlocks, scored a game-high 25 points in a relatively comfortable win over the Shockers. Don't confuse Davenport coming off Hardaway's bench with his place in this roster's pecking order. He's pulled down 30 more rebounds than any teammate. Jeremiah Martin may be the anointed leader of the 2018-19 Tigers, but you get the impression that, come March, this team will go as far as Davenport takes it.

77.9 — The Tigers rank 12th — dead last — in the American Athletic Conference in points allowed per game. Hardaway has insisted his team will play fast with the ball and apply the clamps defensively. Memphis has done one of these well to date.

9 — Hardaway has gone nine-deep with his rotation, and it might be ten had freshman sharpshooter David Wingett not been sidelined by injury. Five seniors, a junior, and three freshmen have played at least 13 minutes per game, with only three — Martin, Tyler Harris, and Alex Lomax — averaging 25 per game. There is no true "A unit" (the team's best player currently comes off the bench). Hardaway can go small and, as he says, "speed [an opponent] up." He can lean on veterans like Martin, Davenport, and Brewton, or go with the hot freshman hands of Harris, Lomax, or Antwann Jones (a trio that disappeared in last Sunday's loss at Houston). These Tigers aren't just deep, they're versatile.

1 — There appears to be but one killer team in the American Athletic Conference, and the Tigers 13-point loss to Houston last Sunday will be the only time Memphis faces that team until (possibly) the league tournament in March. According to the NCAA's new NET rankings, only the Cougars (4) belong among the country's top 30 teams (through last Saturday's games). Perusing the list, you find UCF (32), Cincinnati (33), and Temple (61) before locating Memphis (75). Houston may dominate this league, but there's room for another team (or two) to accumulate wins and enter the conversation for an at-large NCAA tournament berth.

119,828 — The Tigers sold more tickets for their first eight home games (all nonconference) than they did for the entire 19-game home schedule in 2017-18 (118,277). Hardaway has a delightfully ironic nickname. A math wizard needs to calculate the pennies generated not just for the U of M, but for sponsors, bars, hotels, and vendors that support Tiger basketball since Hardaway took over coaching duties. And you get the sense this is much more than a honeymoon. A crowd of 13,000 for South Dakota State on a Tuesday in December? That's money, Penny.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

#19 Houston 90, Tigers 77

Posted By on Sun, Jan 6, 2019 at 7:20 PM

The madness may be two months away, but the Houston Cougars are becoming part of college basketball's national storyline this season. In easily handling the Tigers Sunday at their shiny new arena, the Cougars extended their home winning streak to 28 games to remain one of only three undefeated teams in the country (along with Michigan and Virginia). Houston (15-0) led from start to finish to end the Tigers' four-game winning streak and drop Memphis to 9-6 for the season and 1-1 in the American Athletic Conference.

Armoni Brooks led the way for Houston with 22 points, draining three-pointers (a total of six) whenever the Tigers seemed to be closing in. Nate Hinton added 19 off the Cougar bench.

Senior forward Kyvon Davenport spurred a Tiger comeback early in the second half with eight straight points. But Memphis never reduced the lead below four points (50-46) and finished with its lowest point total since Thanksgiving weekend. Davenport finished the contest with 17 points and Kareem Brewton added a career-high 25, also off the Memphis bench. Jeremiah Martin scored 16 points for the Tigers, but the freshman trio of Tyler Harris, Alex Lomax, and Antwann Jones combined for just seven.

Memphis shot 48 percent from the field but committed 17 turnovers, a factor in Houston taking 21 more shots in the game. The Cougars shot 45 percent and hit 12 treys (to the Tigers' eight).

Houston does not play in Memphis in the regular season, so the teams will not meet again unless they're matched against one another in the AAC tournament (at FedExForum) in March.

The Tigers return home Thursday night to host East Carolina (8-6, 1-1). Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Tigers 85, Wichita State 74

Posted By on Fri, Jan 4, 2019 at 11:36 AM

Memphis opened American Athletic Conference play Thursday night at FedExForum with variables both known and unknown. Having completed their nonconference slate of 13 games, the Tigers know they have a veteran playmaker and leader in senior Jeremiah Martin. In Tyler Harris, they know they have a freshman with a scorer's frame of mind (whether or not he's on target). But what's to be made of players like Antwann Jones, Alex Lomax, or Mike Parks? Swing variables — like that trio — tend to steer a season one direction or another.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Alex Lomax

Jones, Lomax, and Parks played significant roles in helping the Tigers beat Wichita State to complete a 6-1 homestand and extend their current winning streak to four games. A sloppy opening five minutes gave way to the accelerated pace Memphis has shown under rookie coach Penny Hardaway. Lomax converted a steal into a layup to cap a 9-0 Tiger run and give Memphis a 29-20 lead with 4:15 to play before halftime. The Shockers closed the margin to five points (46-41) early in the second half, but the Tigers never surrendered the lead in avenging a 20-point loss to Wichita State a year ago. (The Shockers return no starters from their 2018 NCAA tournament team.)

"I'm proud of the effort, overall," said a hoarse Hardaway after the game. "We had some mental lapses, but we overcame that with hustle and came away with a great victory. This game meant more to Alex Lomax than anybody, because of his [previous] ties to Wichita State. And Antwann Jones . . . what can you say about him? He's just a talent. We've been waiting for him to come around."

Lomax stuffed the stat sheet off the Tiger bench with eight points, a team-leading eight rebounds, five assists, and three steals in 25 minutes. Fellow-freshman Jones scored a season-high 16 points in just 21 minutes, connecting on seven of nine shots from the field, including a few among larger defenders in the paint. "Back in my YMCA days," said Jones, "I played the five [position], so I'm comfortable [down low]."

Parks converted a pair of reverse layups in the first half and hit all four of his field-goal attempts to go along with four rebounds and three steals. Hardaway emphasized that the inconsistent senior is physically healthy, noting only "a mental thing" hindering his becoming an integral part of the Tiger rotation.

Senior Kvon Davenport had his finest game since cutting his signature dreadlocks, scoring a game-high 25 points in 27 minutes off the Memphis bench. He hit nine of 11 free throws, boosting a huge advantage for the Tigers from the charity stripe. (The Tigers made 25 of 31 shots while the Shockers only took — and made — six.)
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Penny Hardaway

"We scored 85 points on an off night," noted Hardaway, whose team had scored at least 90 points in its previous five games, a streak unmatched by a Memphis squad since the 1975-76 season. "Our offensive woes don't worry me, because I feel like we'll be able to turn it on at any time."

The Tigers won the rebounding battle, 35-29, impressing Hardaway with the toughness necessary to win league clashes. "That's a different Memphis than they're used to seeing," said Hardaway. "They've only been in the league one year, but last year they kind of had their way with the team physically. To be able to take that physicality, and put it back on them, I'm definitely proud of that. We want to grow in that category."

Markis McDuffie led the Shockers with 19 points but needed 17 shots to match his season scoring average. The loss drops Wichita State to 7-6.

Now 9-5, the Tigers will play their first road game in over a month when they travel to 19th-ranked Houston Sunday. Memphis is 0-3 against ranked teams this season.

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