Thursday, January 16, 2020

#22 Tigers 60, Cincinnati 49

Posted By on Thu, Jan 16, 2020 at 9:42 PM

In the Penny Hardaway Story, Bearcats are villains. This goes all the way back to the winter of 1992 when, in a span of a little over two months, Cincinnati beat the Memphis State Tigers — and their star sophomore guard, Penny Hardaway — four times, including the Midwest Regional final of the NCAA tournament. Hardaway's last home game as a Tiger came in the Great Midwest Conference tournament on March 13, 1993. The Tigers lost to Cincinnati in the Pyramid. "They've always been the team that comes in and punches first," said Hardaway after Thursday night's nationally televised game between the Tigers and Bearcats at FedExForum.
Malcolm Dandridge - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Malcolm Dandridge

The villains went down this time. With Hardaway now coaching his 22nd-ranked Tigers, Memphis ended a six-game losing streak to Cincinnati by pulling away in the game's final minutes following a technical foul charged to Bearcat coach John Brannen. (Brannen disputed an offensive foul called on his star guard, Jarron Cumberland. He disputed vigorously, like a good villain.) Four free throws by Lester Quinones and field goals by Alex Lomax, D.J. Jeffries, and Malcolm Dandridge yielded a 10-0 run that secured a second-straight win for Memphis, now 14-3 and 3-1 in the American Athletic Conference. The Bearcats — winners of the AAC tournament last March at FedExForum — fell to 10-7 (3-2).

Making just his second start, freshman center Dandridge scored only three points but otherwise stuffed the stat sheet with seven rebounds, four assists, four steals, and three blocks in 27 minutes on the floor. Hardaway's former high school player (at East) established some college credentials, and against a formidable foe. "Malcolm helped a lot today," said Hardaway. "That's what I'm challenging him to do on a game-to-game basis. You have to come out and make your presence felt, offensively and defensively. A lot of people don't know what he does out there. He's kind of quick, knows how to make decisions. He looked really good."

The Tigers outplayed Cincinnati in a choppy first half and took an 11-point lead (31-20) to the break. But after falling behind by 15 (35-20), the Bearcats surged, outscoring the Tigers 18-2 over a seven-minute stretch to take a 38-37 lead on a Cumberland three-pointer. The Tigers responded, though, with a 10-0 run keyed by a pair of Jeffries three-pointers and a thunderous dunk by Precious Achiuwa, who contributed his 10th double-double of the season (12 points and 11 rebounds) and sixth in a row.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Penny Hardaway

"We've played in enough games where teams try to beat us up," said Hardaway. "With Cincinnati, that's their whole deal. We had to protect home court, and keep punching. We withstood that run. I'm proud of our team, not letting their physicality push us back. We kept moving forward."

"Malcolm had a really big game today," added Achiuwa. "We needed his inside presence, a big body to bang [opponents]. He helped me a lot; I really didn't have to do a lot of banging. Blocking shots, changing shots, he allowed us to stay in the game."

Jeffries led the Tigers with 18 points and Quinones added 13 (making all three of his three-point attempts). For the fourth straight game, Memphis accumulated more turnovers (17) than assists (14), but held the Bearcats to 30-percent shooting. Cumberland led Cincinnati with 19 points.

"We've been in a ton of battles," acknowledged Hardaway, "more than I'd want. When you've been down and come back and won, you don't have that quit. You'll never quit. That's what this team shows. They keep fighting. If we get down, we know we're not out."

Spoken like a man who'd just vanquished a villain.

The Tigers' next game is on January 22nd at Tulsa. They host SMU on Saturday, January 25th.

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Sunday, January 12, 2020

#21 Tigers 68, USF 64

Posted By on Sun, Jan 12, 2020 at 5:37 PM

There are must-win games, now and then, over the course of a college basketball season. Less celebrated are the "must-not-lose" games. Memphis face one of these Sunday afternoon at South Florida and, thanks to a second-half comeback that erased a 14-point deficit, secured the victory and ended a two-game losing streak.

Precious Achiuwa
took a pass from Alex Lomax on a pick-and-roll and dunked the ball from the left side to a break a 61-61 tie with 1:51 left to play in the game. Neither team would make another field goal, but the Tigers hit five of eight shots from the free-throw line to clinch the win and improve to 13-3 for the season (2-1 in the American Athletic Conference). Achiuwa notched his fifth straight double-double (and ninth for the season) with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Tyler Harris came off the bench and scored 17 points.

The Tigers trailed by eight points (37-29) at halftime and 14 (51-37) with just over 13 minutes left in the contest. But the Bulls went ice-cold from the field for the balance of the game, allowing Memphis to survive a game in which it compiled more turnovers (22) than assists (16).

David Collins led the Bulls (8-9, 1-3) with 24 points, but had a late shot blocked by Achiuwa with the Tigers clinging to a four-point lead.

Tiger coach Penny Hardaway changed sixty percent of his starting lineup, replacing Damion Baugh, Boogie Ellis, and Isaiah Maurice with Lomax, Malcolm Dandridge, and Lester Quinones. Quinones scored 13 points in 22 minutes of action.

The Tigers return to play Thursday night when they face Cincinnati (10-6) at FedExForum. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m.

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Thursday, January 9, 2020

#23 Wichita State 76, #21 Tigers 67

Posted By on Thu, Jan 9, 2020 at 8:33 PM

Bye-bye, Top 25.

Five days after a loss to Georgia that dropped them 12 spots in the Top 25 (from 9th to 21st), the Tigers were declawed at Wichita State, surely toppling out of the rankings for the near future. Memphis has lost consecutive games for the first time this season, now 12-3 overall and 1-1 in the American Athletic Conference. The Shockers improve to 14-1 (2-0).

The U of M shot miserably in the first half (1 for 13 from three-point range), but closed a 13-point deficit to six (37-31) by halftime. Wichita State opened the second half with a 9-3 run and extended the lead to 17 points midway through the period. A Tyler Harris trey and Precious Achiuwa layup keyed a 13-4 Memphis run that reduced the Shocker lead to six points (66-60) with just over three minutes to play. But a pair of turnovers by Alex Lomax interrupted the comeback. The Tigers and Shockers have now split four games since Wichita State joined the AAC before the 2017-18 season.

Precious Achiuwa posted his eighth double-double of the season with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Harris scored a season-high 17 points off the bench, but no other Tiger scored as many as 10. D.J. Jeffries returned to the starting lineup after missing the Georgia game due to illness. He scored only three points in 28 minutes of action.

Jamarius Burton led the Shockers with 16 points.

The Tigers made only four of 21 shots from three-point range and had almost twice as many turnovers (18) as assists (10).

Memphis returns to action Sunday with a game at USF (8-8). Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m. The Tigers return to FedExForum on January 16th when Cincinnati comes to town.

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Monday, January 6, 2020

Tiger Blue: Midseason "Madness"

Posted By on Mon, Jan 6, 2020 at 9:42 AM

In two seasons as a college basketball player, the longest winning streak Penny Hardaway enjoyed was six games (in 1993, a season he earned first-team All-America recognition). Merely 14 games into his second season as a college basketball coach, Hardaway has overseen a ten-game winning streak, his pack of freshmen (and three key veterans) having climbed into the nation's Top 10. Beyond the James Wiseman saga, what will we remember about the Tigers' season to date? And what does it suggest for this team's fate come March?
Precious Achiuwa - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Precious Achiuwa

"Chemistry is everything with a young team." Hardaway spoke these words after the Tigers beat Tulane on December 30th for their 10th straight win (and first in American Athletic Conference play). Memphis opened the game poorly, falling behind 13-4 to a team charged to play in FedExForum (particularly former Tiger K.J. Lawson). But by halftime the Tigers led by 10 points. They withstood a late threat by the visitors, Tyler Harris and Alex Lomax — gasp, sophomores! — coming up big in the waning minutes. Five Tigers scored at least a dozen points and the team dished out 24 assists. Funny, but when a group of basketball players don't care who scores, the team tends to score a lot. Despite playing their first season together, the 2019-20 Tigers seem to enjoy the shared mission. This will be important when roadblocks appear.

A veteran bench goes a long way.
By "veteran," I mean the lone senior (Isaiah Maurice) and those two sophomores in Hardaway's rotation. Maurice started against the Green Wave, but played only six minutes. (Lester Quinones came off the bench and played 27 minutes.) Four of the Tiger starters were on the minus side of the plus-minus metric (scoring differential when a player is on the floor), while Harris (plus-19) and Lomax (plus-27) were the difference-makers in the victory. Lomax in particular has become Hardaway's stabilizer, contributing on the offensive end (eight assists against Tulane) and defensively when things get frenzied. Whether Quinones continues to come off the bench or (more likely) Maurice fills a reserve role, the Tigers' depth is, as Hardaway puts it, making it "hard to guard us." It's hard to envision one slumping shooter damaging the Tigers' chances on game night. (Now a quartet of slumping shooters is a different story, one that cost Memphis a win last Saturday against Georgia.)

• Mr. D.J.
The Tigers are 10-1 without Wiseman, and 0-1 without D.J. Jeffries. The small forward has been the team's most consistent stat-sheet-stuffer, but missed the Georgia game with flu-like symptoms. Let's ease out on that limb and say the Tigers can't afford a long-term loss of their starting small forward. Jeffries has scored at least 10 points in 11 of his 13 games. His season-highs include nine rebounds, eight assists, four blocks, and three steals. He's shooting 56 percent from the field and 41 percent from three-point range. The Olive Branch native somehow arrived in the shadow of Wiseman and Precious Achiuwa, but he's vying for MVP honors for this year's team and is critical to hopes of another lengthy winning streak.

• Traveling band.
The Tigers have only two more home games in January, with four on the road, starting Thursday night at Wichita State (the only other AAC team currently in the AP rankings). Road trips are often where a team's kinks can be addressed, shortcomings either minimized or erased. Fewer family and friends in the stands means focus on the mission at hand, for now the program's first regular-season AAC championship.

"I'm gonna dig in deeper," said Hardaway after the Georgia loss. "We're not gonna go crazy, but we'll be better prepared for [the Wichita State] game."

The second-year coach continues to emphasize ball-sharing, the unselfish play so evident in that win over Tulane. When cracks appear in that team-first approach, the Tigers suffer.

"We take the man-to-man challenge," noted Hardaway, "instead of getting a teammate involved."

Look for more than 10 assists (the Tigers' total against Georgia) in games to come.

• POY watch.
No Tiger has yet won the AAC's Player of the Year award, so it will be interesting to follow candidates with this year's team, particularly Achiuwa. Currently the league's leading rebounder (10.2 per game), Achiuwa kept Memphis in the Georgia game with 20 points and 15 rebounds, his seventh double-double of the season. His 14.6 points per game are seventh in the league and he passes every eye test, often looking like the first-round NBA draft pick he's projected to be. Does he want to make his lone college season unforgettable? We'll see in conference play.

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Saturday, January 4, 2020

Georgia 65, #9 Tigers 62

Posted By on Sat, Jan 4, 2020 at 3:42 PM

The Memphis Tigers have learned to play without departed star James Wiseman. Saturday afternoon at FedExForum, they learned just before tip-off that they'd need to play without D.J. Jeffries . . . for at least 40 minutes. With their second-leading scorer on the bench with flu symptoms, the Tigers fell to Georgia, ending a 10-game winning streak and ceding the stage — for at least one day — to a star freshman in another uniform, Georgia's Anthony Edwards. The player right behind (or just ahead of) Wiseman in most rankings of the 2019 recruiting class, Edwards missed 13 of his 17 shots from the field (guarded primarily by Lester Quinones and Alex Lomax), but hit a pair of key three-pointers in the second half to help the Bulldogs erase an eight-point deficit and earn their first win over a Top-10 opponent since 2011.
Precious Achiuwa - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Precious Achiuwa

"Tough game today," said Memphis coach Penny Hardaway after his team's first loss since November 12th. "We had a couple of chances to knock them out, and didn't do it. When you let a team hang around, this is what can happen. We have to regroup."

The game featured 20 lead changes and 10 ties (including a 37-37 score at halftime). The Tigers led, 61-59, courtesy of a Precious Achiuwa three-pointer with 4:30 left to play in the game, but didn't connect on another field-goal attempt. Bulldog forward Rayshaun Hammonds followed Achiuwa's shot with a trey of his own to regain the lead for Georgia, one it wouldn't relinquish. Sahvir Wheeler hit a jumper from the free-throw line that extended the lead to three points (64-61) with a minute to play. Down two (64-62), Quinones had a clean look from beyond the three-point line in the right corner, but missed with 11 seconds left on the clock.

"It's just experience,"  said Lomax. "We're kinda young, haven't been in this situation. We can learn from it, and know what to do next time. For me personally, I gotta find a way to get the ball to Precious, get him going."

"It's following the game plan," emphasized Achiuwa. "Not seven out of ten times, but every single time. The last four minutes, we kind of lost focus. I think this is a good learning experience. You gotta move on."

Minus Jeffries (averaging 12.0 points and 4.7 rebounds per game), the Tigers needed a "next-man-up" performance and didn't get it. Quinones started in place of Jeffries but made only three of nine shots (one for five from three-point range). Boogie Ellis and Damion Baugh combined to miss 12 of their 17 shots, and Tyler Harris missed all four of his attempts from long range. Holding to form was Achiuwa, who led the team with 20 points and 15 rebounds. Lomax added 11 points, four assists, and five steals (two late in the game, guarding Edwards).

Hammonds led Georgia (10-3) with 15 points and Edwards scored 13 in the first contest between these programs since December 1996, when Larry Finch coached Memphis and Tubby Smith the Bulldogs. It's the first loss this season at FedExForum for the Tigers (now 9-1 at home).

Hardaway acknowledged Jeffries's absence was a factor, but wasn't ready to make it the explanation for the loss. "Players get sick, and it changes a lot for us," he said. "Everybody knew that, and we had to adjust. I did a poor job of playing five or six players a lot of minutes. Precious got tired. Damion got tired. We gotta regroup. You gotta trust the rotation, but it just didn't look good to me [today] with certain guys out there on the floor. We had energy. We just didn't execute properly. It was uncertainty, and not making the right plays."

Having completed their non-conference schedule, the Tigers (12-2) hit the road for their next two games, first at Wichita State on Thursday. The Shockers (11-1) are currently ranked 24th in the AP poll.

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Monday, December 30, 2019

#9 Tigers 84, Tulane 73

Posted By on Mon, Dec 30, 2019 at 11:39 PM

The 9th-ranked Tigers opened American Athletic Conference play Monday night at FedExForum, starting what they hope will be a championship run just as one year — and decade — yields to another. After falling behind the Green Wave early (13-4), the Tigers surged with multiple runs fueled by the talented roster of freshmen coach Penny Hardaway has at his disposal. With 14 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, and three blocks, D.J. Jeffries was merely one of five Memphis players to score at least a dozen. With help from a pair of sophomores (Tyler Harris and Alex Lomax) in crunch time, the Tigers earned their 10th straight win and improved to 12-1 for the season.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • D.J. Jeffries

"I'm proud of the boys," said Hardaway. "First conference win against a tough match-up zone. It's tough to dissect, especially for a young team. We knew it wasn't going to be easy."

Memphis shared the ball as well as it has all season, dishing out 24 assists (with but 12 turnovers) on 34 made field goals. Lomax matched Jeffries with eight dimes and Damion Baugh handed out six assists to go with his 15 points. (Lomax was a remarkable plus-27 in 25 minutes of playing time. He hit three important free throws in the game's final three minutes when Tulane pulled within four points.)

Lester Quinones appeared to be in top form in his second game back from a right-hand injury. Coming off the bench, Quinones hit four three-pointers, scored 16 points and drew five fouls from Tulane players. Harris also hit four treys and Precious Achiuwa threw down three second-half dunks on his way to 14 points and 10 rebounds, his sixth double-double of the season.

"Going 1-0 in conference play is huge," said Quinones. "Just grinding out a win. We're coming together, on and off the court, as brothers. Coach has emphasized cutting down on turnovers. Instead of flashy passes, just run the offense, execute. And our ball movement was excellent today."

Native Memphian (and former Tiger) K.J. Lawson led the Green Wave (8-5) with 22 points. The graduate transfer — playing for his third program — got emotional in the postgame press conference when asked about the mixture of boos and cheers he heard when he was introduced with the Tulane starters. "You can never blame the kids," said Hardaway. "K.J. was in a situation with his father, he needed to move. It's a family decision. He wanted to play well. The few fans who booed him, that's a shame."

The Tigers return to FedExForum Saturday to host Georgia and one of the country's top freshmen, Anthony Edwards. Memphis will aim to extend its winning streak to 11 games with another group effort, a "win by committee" as Hardaway describes it.

"Chemistry is everything with a young team," stressed Hardaway, whose longest winning streak as a player for the Tigers was six games (in 1993). "Usually when you get a young team, everyone wants to be The Man. But this team has gelled, and is working off one another, on and off the court. We're gonna need that."

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Cotton Bowl: #13 Penn State 53, #15 Tigers 39

Posted By on Sat, Dec 28, 2019 at 3:22 PM

The most successful season in Memphis football history came to a close Saturday afternoon in the 84th Cotton Bowl at Arlington, Texas. The 13th-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions forced a pair of critical second-half turnovers to secure victory in the highest-scoring game in the history of the event. Ryan Silverfield made his debut as head coach for the Tigers, three weeks after Mike Norvell departed for Florida State. The loss is the Tigers' fifth straight in a bowl game and ends a seven-game winning streak.

Memphis (12-2) came up short despite 454 passing yards by Brady White, 132 of them to Damonte Coxie. All-conference kicker Riley Patterson set a bowl record with six field goals and established a long-distance mark for the Cotton Bowl with a 51-yard field goal early in the third quarter. (Patterson established a new single-season scoring record among Memphis kickers with 134 points.)

After falling behind, 7-3, the Tigers took the lead on a three-yard Patrick Taylor touchdown run midway through the first quarter. They extended the lead to 13-7 before Penn State moved back in front on a one-yard run by Noah Cain early in the second quarter. The Nittany Lions scored touchdowns on their next three possessions and led 35-23 at halftime, Memphis staying close courtesy of a touchdown by Kennth Gainwell and Patterson's third field goal.

A trick play in which White caught a pass from receiver Kedarian Jones after a reverse led to a touchdown (a sneak by White) on the Tigers' first possession of the third quarter. After an Austin Hall interception of Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford and the 51-yarder by Patterson, the Tigers found themselves within two points (35-33). The teams exchanged field goals and Memphis held the Nittany Lions on a fourth-down attempt at the Tiger 22-yard line, but Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons forced a White fumble that Garrett Taylor caught in the air and ran 15 yards for a touchdown and a 45-36 lead in the final minute of the third quarter.

Cain ran one yard to complete a 75-yard touchdown drive for the Nittany Lions with 6:37 left in the game that all but clinched the game for Penn State. Marquis Wilson intercepted a White pass inside the Lions' 5-yard line on the Tigers' ensuing possession to end the underdogs' hopes.

The 39 points scored by Memphis are the most Penn State (11-2) allowed all season. But the Nittany Lions dominated the ground game, rushing for 396 yards (202 by junior Journey Brown) and holding Memphis to just 63. The Tigers were just as dominant in the passing game (133 yards for Penn State), but the two White interceptions helped sway the result.

Despite the loss, Memphis should finish in the AP Top 25 for the third time in six seasons.

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#9 Tigers 97, New Orleans 55

Posted By on Sat, Dec 28, 2019 at 2:51 PM

Lester Quinones - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Lester Quinones
The 9th-ranked Memphis Tigers made easy work of the New Orleans Privateers Saturday afternoon at FedExForum for their ninth straight victory, the program's longest winning streak since the 2012-13 season. Freshman guard Lester Quinones returned after missing four games with a broken right hand and scored 13 points, second among the Tigers to Precious Achiuwa's 18. Three other Tigers reached double figures in the scoring column as Memphis improved to 11-1 for the season. Tyler Harris came off the bench to score 11 points while D.J. Jeffries and Isaiah Maurice each added 10.

The Tigers started fast, taking a 15-3 lead five minutes into the game. They led by 27 (51-24) at halftime and by more than 30 (73-41) midway through the second half.

Troy Green led the Privateers (4-8) with 22 points.

The Tigers return to FedExForum Monday night for their American Athletic Conference opener against Tulane. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m.

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Saturday, December 21, 2019

#11 Tigers 77, Jackson State 49

Posted By on Sat, Dec 21, 2019 at 3:27 PM

For the first time in more than five weeks, the Memphis Tigers took the floor for a game that wouldn't be analyzed primarily for who is not playing. A certain star freshman was absent for an eighth straight contest, but we now know James Wiseman is actually no longer a star freshman with the Memphis Tigers. With Wiseman's departure from the program — announced via Instagram Thursday — the Tigers who beat Jackson State Saturday afternoon are largely the players Memphis will ride in hopes of ending a five-year NCAA tournament drought. (The notable exception is Lester Quinones, the guard who missed his fifth game Saturday as he recovers from a broken right hand.)
Precious Achiuwa - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Precious Achiuwa

Led by Precious Achiuwa (20 points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes), the 11th-ranked Tigers easily handled JSU for their eighth straight win and improved to 10-1 for the season. It's the best start to a season for Memphis since Derrick Rose and friends won their first 26 games on their way to the 2008 Final Four. The winning streak is the program's longest since an 18-game run in the 2012-13 season (the Tigers' last in Conference USA).

Tiger coach Penny Hardaway acknowledged that the Wiseman saga has been a shock to his system, but isn't all that surprised by his team's record or ranking. "I'm not surprised because of how hard we work," he said following the win. "But it's incredible. This team deserves a lot of credit for everything we've gone through, to be on this winning streak and 10-1."

The Tigers played sloppily in their first home game since December 3rd, committing 18 turnovers before halftime. But they also led throughout the game's forty minutes, putting Jackson State in a 16-point hole (33-17) merely 13 minutes into the game. Isaiah Maurice played like a man wanting to absorb some minutes Wiseman's departure will create. The Tigers' lone senior scored six points, pulled down six rebounds, and blocked four shots in 16 minutes of action. Malcolm Dandridge also appears to be in the mix for more playing time. The freshman is still finding game form after left-knee surgery, but scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench.

D.J. Jeffries scored 13 points for Memphis, his team-leading ninth game this season with at least 10. Tristan Jarrett led JSU (3-9) with 20 points.

"It takes a lot of discipline to play the same way against every team," said Achiuwa, acknowledging the Tigers' struggles to protect the ball, particularly in the first half. "We gotta stay locked in, no matter who we play."

"I don't feel we get the respect we deserve," added Jeffries, "but that's good. It means we have something to prove."

Hardaway welcomes another week-long break for his team, a chance to collect some proverbial breath before conference play. (The Tigers host New Orleans on December 28th, then league-rival Tulane visits FedExForum on December 30th.) But he's grateful for the team he now knows is his, and on the cusp of the nation's Top 10. "I'm proud of the team," he emphasized. "It's something we imagined. To be where we are right now, I'm very proud of that. Just to get [another] win is a blessing."

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Thursday, December 19, 2019

Wiseman Departs Memphis Program (for Good)

Posted By on Thu, Dec 19, 2019 at 2:12 PM

The James Wiseman saga — at least as it pertains to the University of Memphis basketball program — has concluded. The freshman star announced Thursday, via Instagram, that he will depart the college program and begin preparing for an NBA career. Wiseman is projected to be a top-five pick in the 2020 NBA draft.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • James Wiseman

From Wiseman's Instagram post: "Ever since I was a little kid, it's been a dream of mine to play in the NBA. Throughout this process, I've asked God to ordain my steps and lead me in the right direction. . . . This was not how I expected my freshman season to be, but I'm thankful for everyone who has supported my family and me throughout this process. . . . The friends and fans of Tiger Nation will always hold a place in my heart."

Wiseman was the centerpiece in a freshman class ranked tops in the country, the largest jewel in Penny Hardaway's second recruiting class. After scoring 28 points in his college debut on November 5th, Wiseman learned that his eligibility came into question by the NCAA, the result of a payment ($11,500) Hardaway made to Wiseman's mother to help his family move to Memphis from Nashville in 2017. (Wiseman played the 2017-18 season at East High School for Hardaway.) He played in the Tigers' next two games before the university accepted a 12-game suspension, one that would have had Wiseman back in uniform when the Tigers play at USF on January 12th.

The Tigers have won all seven games they've played without Wiseman, including three against "Power 5" competition: Ole Miss, North Carolina State, and Tennessee. With an overall record of 9-1, they return to FedExForum Saturday to host Jackson State. American Athletic Conference play opens on December 30th when Tulane comes to town.

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Saturday, December 14, 2019

#13 Tigers 51, #19 Tennessee 47

Posted By on Sat, Dec 14, 2019 at 4:33 PM

Down two starters (one of them the top freshman in the country), the Tigers crossed the state of Tennessee and earned their first win over a Top-20 team under coach Penny Hardaway by knocking off the 19th-ranked Tennessee Vols. Damion Baugh hit a three-pointer from the right wing with 1:40 left in the game for the sixth and final lead change of the contest's final five minutes. Volunteer guard Yves Pons had a chance to tie the game with a pair of free throws with 21 seconds left on the clock, but he missed the front end of a one-and-one. Sophomore guard Alex Lomax buried a pair of free throws with eight seconds left to clinch the Tigers' seventh straight win, all with James Wiseman serving his NCAA-mandated suspension.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Alex Lomax

The win is the Tigers' first at Thompson-Boling arena since the 2012-13 season (the last time the teams played in Knoxville). Memphis improves to 9-1 on the season, the program's best start since the 2010-11 campaign. With its first loss in 32 games at home, Tennessee falls to 7-2.

Both teams shot miserably to open the game, Tennessee missing 15 of its first 18 shots while the Tigers hit only one of their first 12. But a 20-7 run by Memphis — capped by a driving Tyler Harris layup as time expired — gave the Tigers a one-point lead (25-24) at halftime. Harris and Jeffries each hit a three-pointer midway through the second half to give Memphis a marginal lead, but UT jumped back in front on a field goal by Pons with just under six minutes remaining. But a steal and layup by Baugh put the Tigers back in front, setting up the punch-trading final stretch.

Jeffries and Harris led Memphis in the scoring column with 11 points and Baugh added 10. Precious Achiuwa pulled down 13 rebounds and just missed a double-double with eight points. Josiah-Jordan James led the Volunteers with 14 points.

The Tigers return to FedExForum for their next game, December 21st against Jackson State. They have five games remaining (including the American Athletic Conference opener) before Wiseman is eligible to return on January 12th (at USF).

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Friday, December 13, 2019

Ryan Silverfield Named Football Coach at U of M

Posted By on Fri, Dec 13, 2019 at 4:47 PM

It took University of Memphis athletic director Laird Veatch all of five days to make the hire most of the Tiger football community wanted, expected, and all but insisted upon. On Friday afternoon at the Murphy Athletic Complex, Veatch introduced Ryan Silverfield as the new (and 25th) head football coach for the U of M. Silverfield succeeds Mike Norvell, who won 38 games in four seasons at the helm and departed last Sunday for Florida State, the day after leading the Tigers to a victory in the American Athletic Conference championship game at the Liberty Bowl. Silverfield served all four seasons on Norvell's staff, most recently as deputy head coach/run game coordinator/offensive line.
Ryan Silverfield
  • Ryan Silverfield

"I'm very proud of the process we went through," said Veatch. "We were very diligent. We met with all the players and I handed out notecards, asking them what they would look for in a head coach. They wanted someone that's real, a winner, a competitor, high energy, someone that truly loves and cares for players. They wanted a Memphian, someone who could continue to provide the discipline and accountability that have become a hallmark of this program. What I wanted was a great leader. Ryan won this job. We went through a process that was fairly grueling, and he won it outright."

Immediately prior to his arrival in Memphis, Silverfield spent the 2015 season as assistant offensive line coach for the Detroit Lions. His longest-tenured position to date came with the Minnesota Vikings (2008-13) where he spent his last three years as an assistant offensive line coach. Silverfield graduated from Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia in 2003 with a bachelor's degree in economics.

"To stand in front of our players a few minutes ago and be named the head football coach at the University of Memphis is a dream come true," said Silverfield after taking a few moments to clear his throat. "This is my dream job. I'm honored, humbled, grateful, appreciative. I can't wait to get started. So excited. We're going to do it the right way. Every day is just as important as the last. We will make the city of Memphis proud. I'm excited about this journey, for many years to come."

The 39-year-old Silverfield will make his head-coaching debut on the lofty stage of the Cotton Bowl, to be played in Dallas on December 28th between the 15th-ranked Tigers and 13th-ranked Penn State. In other words, the first game he calls the shots for the Memphis program will be the biggest game in Tiger history.

Silverfield emphasized the positive environment he will require and promote as leader of the Tiger football program. "Everything matters," he emphasized, from academics to "the way we respect women." He saluted his predecessor, noting that he wouldn't be in Memphis — could not have fallen in love with the city as he has — had he not been hired by Norvell.

"If current and former players believe in me," said Silverfield, "then maybe I've been doing it the right way. This is the job I always wanted. If you love Memphis, the city loves you back. We wear 901 on our sleeves and on our hearts."

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Monday, December 9, 2019

After Norvell

Posted By on Mon, Dec 9, 2019 at 10:52 AM

Would you have had his Memphis football team not reach the American Athletic Conference championship game three years in a row? What about the Top 25 rankings, first after a 10-3 season in 2017 then this season, when the Tigers have risen to 15th in the nation. What about those first-team All-Americans Mike Norvell coached on their way to the National Football League? That kind of fun does wonders for a young football coach’s resume.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Mike Norvell

Norvell took Memphis football to heights the 104-year-old program never reached before his arrival four seasons ago. It’s precisely the kind of success that attracts attention from “Power 5” programs, those from, say, the ACC that play in bigger sandboxes (read: more TV revenue and such) with more spare toys (read: five-star recruits in line outside the training facility). Justin Fuente heard the siren call from Virginia Tech after merely four seasons at Memphis, and two of those ended with losing records.

After going 38-15 in his four years in blue and gray, Norvell had plenty of shine for Florida State. Until the last couple of years, FSU was one of the top 10 or 15 brands in all of college football. For $3.7 million per year, Norvell — still only 38 years old — is moving his family of three to Tallahassee, where a national championship is more likely than it is for a program that must play all but perfectly to claim merely one of 12 New Year’s Six bowl berths. (Take away a dubious call near the end of the Tigers’ loss at Temple and Memphis would indeed have a perfect season to date.)

There’s room for sorrow here, as Norvell has been a model Memphian, stressing “fit and family” since his introductory press conference, and the “hard-earned culture” he insisted would gain the Tigers national significance. But there should be no bitterness, no lingering pain over Norvell’s decision. If I’m turning heads on stage at Playhouse on the Square and a Broadway producer calls, damn right I’m heading north. And I love Memphis.

If you need to channel anger, direct it toward the NCAA. The governing body condones a form of tampering in which losing programs (like Florida State) can knock on the door of coaches at successful programs (like Memphis) before the latter’s season is concluded. The idea of Norvell not coaching the team he led to the Cotton Bowl should be repugnant to everyone outside the Seminole program, including those who run the NCAA. But recruiting is the lifeblood of college football, and the early signing period coincides with bowl season. Should the Tigers win the Cotton Bowl, Norvell’s ring will be in the mail.

As for finding Norvell’s successor, U of M athletic director Laird Veatch has a pair of clear guidelines, taken from the last two extraordinary hires. First, the new coach should have an offensive background. A creative mind is key in modern football, and more of these come from the side calling plays, not reacting to them. And the new coach should not be recently fired. An ounce of cynicism in the Memphis program is deadly. A candidate who checks both of these boxes will likely be calling the shots for Memphis in the Cotton Bowl: offensive line coach Ryan Silverfield. No need to make the latest Tiger football transition more complicated than it should be. Mike Norvell is gone, but a hard-earned culture should remain.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Norvell Departs Memphis for Florida State

Posted By on Sun, Dec 8, 2019 at 9:25 AM

As first reported by ESPN Saturday, Mike Norvell is leaving the University of Memphis to become the new head football coach at Florida State. In four years at the Memphis helm, Norvell posted a 38-15 record (the fifth-most wins in Tiger history) and led the 2019 Tigers to the American Athletic Conference championship (earned with a victory over Cincinnati Saturday at the Liberty Bowl). The Tigers have won 12 games for the first time in program history and will play in the prestigious Cotton Bowl in Dallas on December 28th.
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Norvell, who turned 38 in October, took over the Memphis program upon Justin Fuente's departure for Virginia Tech after the 2015 season. The former offensive coordinator at Arizona State led the Tigers to a 8-5 record in his first season as a head coach, then followed with a 10-3 campaign in 2017 that culminated in Memphis playing in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl for the first time and a year-end ranking of 25 in the Associated Press poll. After an 8-6 season in 2018, the Tigers won the AAC's West Division a third straight season and returned to the AP Top 25 (currently 16th).

The Tigers scored more than 500 points in each of Norvell's four seasons at the helm, a total reached by the program only once before his arrival. Memphis placed a player on the AP All-America first team after both the 2017 (receiver Anthony Miller) and 2018 (Darrell Henderson) seasons.

Norvell succeeds Willie Taggart, who went 9-12 with the Seminoles before being dismissed in November. Florida State did not appear in a bowl game after the 2018 season, ending a streak of 36 consecutive postseason appearances.

In a press release addressed to "Tiger Nation," Memphis athletic director Laird Veatch applauded Norvell for his success in blue and gray and provided a sense of the priority he'll give in finding the right successor for Tiger football. "This search will be my sole focus and I will be in regular contact with President [David] Rudd. We now turn our attention to securing a coach of the highest integrity and character with the skills and vision to continue our ascension into the college football elite. There has never been a better time to be a part of the Memphis Tiger football program."

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Saturday, December 7, 2019

AAC Championship: #16 Tigers 29, #21 Cincinnati 24

Posted By on Sat, Dec 7, 2019 at 9:42 PM

If Mike Norvell coached his final game for the Memphis Tigers Saturday afternoon at the Liberty Bowl, it can be said he took the program to the mountaintop. In beating the 21st-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats (for the second week in a row), Norvell's 16th-ranked Tigers won the American Athletic Conference championship, reached 12 wins for the first time in program history, and secured a berth in the prestigious Cotton Bowl, one of the acclaimed New Year's Six and a postseason event once considered to be in a different stratosphere from the U of M program.

With his team down, 24-23, senior playmaker Antonio Gibson took a screen pass from Tiger quarterback Brady White and ran six yards into the end zone with 1:14 left on the game clock for the seventh and final lead change of the championship tilt, the third straight to feature Memphis but the first won by the team in blue and gray. The play clinched most valuable player honors for Gibson, who also scored on a 65-yard touchdown run. Gibson accumulated a total of 234 yards via rushing, receiving, and kick returns.

With an ESPN report claiming he'll be named the new head coach at Florida State Sunday, Norvell focused his postgame remarks on his current team's distinct achievement, and those who made it possible. "We knew this was a game that would come down to responses," said Norvell. "How we responded to adversity, how we responded to success at times. But that's the character and heart of these kids. They worked extremely hard to put themselves in this position. To find a way to finish on top . . . that's something I'll never forget. It's a special group. They love each other. They've allowed us to coach them, and they get better each and every day."

Known for creative play-calling, Norvell had his team try an onside kick to open the game, and it backfired when a Tiger player was penalized for interference. The Bearcats took over at the Memphis 30-yard line and appeared to settle for a 32-yard field-goal attempt, but the Tigers were again penalized, this time for roughing the kicker. Moments later, Michael Warren carried the ball into the end zone for an early 7-0 Cincinnati lead.
Riley Patterson - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Riley Patterson

All-AAC kicker Riley Patterson connected on a 29-yard field goal on the Tigers' first possession, one of three he'd convert in the game.  After retaining possession following a roughing-the-punter penalty, the Tigers took the lead for the first time, courtesy Gibson's 65-yard jaunt. They'd fall behind three more times, but in the operative word for the day, respond each time:

• Down 14-10 early in the third quarter, White carried the ball himself for the final yard of a 75-yard drive, the key play coming on a 45-yard catch/run by Damonte Coxie. (Coxie caught nine passes for 165 yards and became only the second Memphis receiver to post two 1,000-yard seasons.)

• After falling behind 21-17, Patterson drilled lengthy field goals on consecutive Tiger possessions, first from 52 yards and then from 50 to put Memphis back in front, 23-21.

• The Bearcats took a 24-23 lead with 4:23 to play on a 33-yard field goal by Sam Crosa, which set up the Tigers' final game-winning drive, one of 75 yards covered almost entirely by Gibson and freshman running back Kenneth Gainwell (who caught a 26-yard pass from White).

"These guys never blinked, they never wavered," said Norvell. "To be able to lift that trophy . . . I'll never forget it. That's what makes the city of Memphis so incredible, what makes this job so incredible. You represent something that's special. For anybody on the outside, who's never lived in Memphis, you just don't understand. It's an incredible place."

"I know the history of the program, and it wasn't always the greatest," said Gibson. "We got to that top-notch stage, but we didn't finish it off. The mindset that [Coach Norvell] brings, the intensity he brings every day — on and off the field — what he expects from us, I appreciate that."

Confident all season in the talent surrounding him, White said the game-winning drive felt much like the myriad other scoring drives he's been a part of for 13 games now. "We were excited to have another opportunity," he said. "Our defense had played awesome. It was our turn to get the ball. I wasn't perfect tonight. There were a lot of miscues. But on that last drive, we knew we'd execute, without a doubt. Our offensive line did a great job in both run and pass blocking. We got it into the end zone, and our defense was able to finish strong. It was a dream come true." White finished the game with 253 yards passing, completing 18 of 40 throws with a touchdown and an interception.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Mike Norvell

The Bearcats reached the Tiger 26-yard line on their final drive, but without timeouts, were forced to attempt downfield passes after spiking the ball on first down. Three straight attempts by quarterback Desmond Ridder fell incomplete. Ridder finished the game 16 of 36 for 233 yards with an interception (by Chris Claybrooks).

Norvell touched on the culture of a football program that not that long ago centered debates about whether it should even continue. "You take personal experience, and how they build and grow from it is so critical," he said. "This is one of the toughest programs in the country to come and play football. They get challenged: academically, socially. We try to make it as hard as possible. That's life; there are things you'll have to overcome. They inspire me every day to be the best version of myself."

The Tigers will learn their opponent in the Cotton Bowl (December 28th in Dallas) Sunday when the four teams in the College Football Playoff are made public. Asked if he will coach Memphis in that game, Norvell said, "That's the plan," but hesitantly. Florida State has scheduled a press conference for noon Sunday.

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