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.
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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.
Antwann Jones - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • 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.
Tyler Harris - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • 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.

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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.
Alex Lomax - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • 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.)
Penny Hardaway - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • 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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Saturday, December 29, 2018

Tigers 96, Florida A & M 65

Posted By on Sat, Dec 29, 2018 at 10:23 PM

Jeremiah Martin scored a game-high 22 points and the Tigers drained a season-high 13 three-pointers Saturday afternoon at FedExForum to beat Florida A & M and end their nonconference schedule with a record of 8-5. Freshman guard Tyler Harris added 16 points while Raynere Thornton and Isaiah Maurice contributed 12 each to extend the Tigers' winning streak to three games.
Jeremiah Martin - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jeremiah Martin

Memphis has scored at least 90 points in five straight games. The Tigers shot 59 percent from the field in handing the Rattlers their 12th loss in 15 contests.

The U of M opens American Athletic Conference play Thursday night at FedExForum when Wichita State (7-5) comes to town. The Shockers won last season's meeting, 85-65, on the Tigers' home floor.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Tigers 99, Tennessee State 41

Posted By on Sat, Dec 22, 2018 at 4:21 PM

Twelve games into his college coaching career, Penny Hardaway has a laugher under his belt. The blowout victory came Saturday afternoon at FedExForum, at the expense of the Tennessee State Tigers. Playing the fifth game in a seven-game homestand, Memphis dominated throughout, taking a 47-17 lead at halftime and almost doubling the margin over the game's final twenty minutes. The win improves Memphis to 7-5, while TSU falls to 3-8. 
Guard Jeremiah Martin
  • Guard Jeremiah Martin

Six players reached double figures in the scoring column for Memphis, led by senior Jeremiah Martin with 14 points. Isaiah Maurice scored 13 off the bench, Kyvon Davenport added 12, Antwann Jones and Mike Parks 11 each, and Kareem Brewton 10.

Memphis shot a cool 60 percent from the field and hit 34 of 45 free throws in the drubbing, the first game between these packs of Tigers since January 2011. Memphis has won all nine games in a series that dates back to the 1983-84 season.

The U of M now has a week off before hosting Florida A & M on December 29th, the final nonconference game on its schedule. Wichita State visits on January 3rd to open American Athletic Conference play.

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Birmingham Bowl: Wake Forest 37, Tigers 34

Posted By on Sat, Dec 22, 2018 at 3:07 PM

A record-breaking football season for Memphis ended in heartbreak at the Birmingham Bowl Saturday afternoon. Sophomore kicker Riley Patterson pushed a 43-yard field goal attempt just outside the right goalpost as time expired, giving the Wake Forest Demon Deacons the win and extending the Tigers' losing streak in bowl games to four.

The Tigers led the game by 18 (28-10) in the second quarter, and took a four-point lead (34-30) on a 9-yard Patrick Taylor touchdown with just 1:15 left in the game. But after failing on a two-point conversion attempt, Memphis allowed the Deacons to drive 75 yards in 41 seconds, quarterback Jamie Newman rushing the final yard for what proved to be the game-winning points, his third touchdown of the contest.
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The loss leaves Memphis with a final record of 8-6 for the season while Wake Forest finishes 7-6.

After falling behind 7-0, the Tigers scored on a 41-yard run by Tony Pollard not quite five minutes into the game. Pollard (109 yards on the ground) and Taylor (108 yards) absorbed carries that might have gone to All-America tailback Darrell Henderson who declined to play in the game as he prepares for next spring's NFL draft.

Memphis extended its lead to 21-7 on a short touchdown reception by Taylor (who finished the season with 18 touchdowns) and 37-yard interception return by sophomore cornerback Chris Claybrooks on the first play of the second quarter.

Wake Forest closed the lead to 21-10 on the first of three field goals by Nick Sciba, a score that set up college football history. Pollard received the ensuing kickoff at the three-yard line and raced 97 yards for his seventh career kickoff-return touchdown, tying the mark of three other players.

Excluding Pollard's heroics, though, a Memphis offense that entered the game ranked fourth in the country disappeared for most of the game. The Tigers went ten possessions without scoring a point, a period that allowed Newman and the Deacons to slice away at the lead, ultimately taking it (30-28) with a 39-yard Sciba field goal late in the third quarter. (The Tiger defense was compromised by injuries to linemen Jonathan Wilson and O'Bryan Goodson.)

Memphis quarterback Brady White completed a 43-yard pass to tight end Joey Magnifico on the Tigers' final possession, setting up Patterson's attempt to tie the game. He connected on two 38-yard attempts, though both were nullified, the first by a Wake Forest timeout and the second by a Tiger false-start penalty. The final kick had plenty of distance, but was just right of the target.

The Tigers completed the highest scoring season in program history, with 601 points over their 14 games. But they beat only one team (Houston) with a winning record.

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Thursday, December 20, 2018

Tigers 99, Little Rock 89

Posted By on Thu, Dec 20, 2018 at 2:52 PM

"I watch a lot of Penny Hardaway highlights." — Memphis guard Antwann Jones

During one of his first media sessions as Tiger coach, Penny Hardaway was asked a question nearly impossible to answer: Among current players, who reminds Hardaway of himself? Hardaway grinned and tilted his head, but didn't dodge the question. He went with freshman guard Antwann Jones.
Antwann Jones - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Antwann Jones

Wednesday night at FedExForum, the pupil from Orlando showed flashes of the master who once owned Orlando as an All-Star with the Magic. Making his first college start, Jones scored 13 points, grabbed five rebounds, handed out six assists, and blocked two shots in 25 minutes on the floor. Jones had three assists over the game's final four minutes to help Memphis pull away and improve to 6-5 for the season.

"Being in the starting lineup really energized [Antwann]," said Hardaway after the win. "He was really focused, and made plays defensively and at the offensive end. When you have an emotional player like Antwann, you just have to continue to talk to him in practice. That's who he is. And that's why it's taken him a while [to get his first start]. He wasn't emotionally into it. I like this side of him, when he's happy. He has vision, a god-given ability to see the floor."

Four days after an emotional loss to Tennessee in front of a packed house, the Tigers struggled to find any rhythm in front of 13,599 fans, their fourth of seven consecutive home games. There were 10 lead changes before halftime. The Trojans hit seven of their first 11 shots from three-point range, but the Tigers commanded the glass with 28 rebounds to Little Rock's 11 over the game's first 20 minutes. A Jones block of a layup attempt by 6'10" Trojan center Nikola Maric was followed by an Isaiah Maurice dunk to give the Tigers a 10-point lead shortly before the break.

But the lead changed hands six more times in the second half. Trojan guard Rayjon Tucker converted a three-point play to give Little Rock an 86-84 lead with just under four minutes to play. (Tucker finished with a game-high 29 points, nine more than his average.) But Jones answered with a layup and found Jeremiah Martin near the basket for another that put Memphis up for good, 88-86. Martin finished with 22 points, matching the senior's season high.
Penny Hardaway - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Penny Hardaway

Senior forward Kyvon Davenport scored only three points over the game's first 28 minutes, but came alive down the stretch to post his fourth double-double (15 points and 15 rebounds) of the season. "I got off to a bad start," acknowledged Davenport. "My mind wasn't in the right place. But I got stronger in the second half, got some rebounds to help my team."

Freshman guard Tyler Harris hit four three-pointers and scored 14 points for Memphis. Fellow freshman Alex Lomax came off the bench for the first time and contributed six assists in 20 minutes.

With conference play looming — the Tigers face Wichita State to open American Athletic Conference play on January 3rd — any win is welcome to Hardaway, but Wednesday's came with more lessons on areas the team must address for sustained success. "Our transition defense was horrible," said the rookie coach. "We work on this stuff, but it doesn't look like it. Two guards back. We have to carry it from practice to a game. It's like they don't believe it. This is Division 1 college basketball. They have to do what we tell them."

The Tigers return to FedExForum Saturday to face Tennessee State, the third and final opponent from the Volunteer State on the Memphis schedule. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

#3 Tennessee 102, Tigers 92

Posted By on Sat, Dec 15, 2018 at 3:24 PM

"Basketball in the state of Tennessee is underrated on a national level." — Tennessee coach Rick Barnes

If the Tigers are to face a stronger tandem this season than Tennessee's Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, don't tell them anytime soon. The two Volunteer forwards combined to score 48 points to help third-ranked Tennessee control Saturday's contest in front of 18,528 fans at FedExForum. The second-largest crowd ever to see a Tiger game in the arena witnessed a stellar second-half performance from Memphis forward Kyvon Davenport in which the senior scored 26 of his career-high 31 points. Davenport's outburst helped Memphis "win" the second half, but wasn't enough to prevent Tennessee's eighth win in nine games and Penny Hardaway's first home loss as Tiger coach.

"We knew this would be a major game for them," said UT coach Rick Barnes after the game. I don't know if [the players] understand the rivalry, but this is a great basketball town." The loss for Memphis (5-5) ends a three-game winning streak in its series with Tennessee and is the first Volunteer win since January 5, 2011. Tennessee now leads the overall series, 15-11.
Kyvon Davenport - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Kyvon Davenport

"Let's give Tennessee a lot of credit," said Hardaway. "They were aggressive early, got up on us, and never looked back. That's why they're ranked number-three in the nation. The second half is more of what we wanted, but we just couldn't put two halves together. When you give up 102 points on your home floor, you aren't gonna win many of those."

The Vols made their first five shots from the field (three of them from three-point range) to take an early 15-5 lead. Raynere Thornton converted a three-point play with just under 10 minutes left in the opening half to close the Tennessee lead to six points (25-19), but the Vols rode the Williams/Schofield combination to a 15-point margin at halftime. The Tigers missed 12 of their 14 three-point attempts in the half while Williams — the reigning SEC Player of the Year — scored 14 points on his way to 19 for the game.

Davenport did what he could to take over in the second half, hitting 10 of 12 shots, including all three he took from three-point range. But his were the only hot hands among Memphis players. Freshman Tyler Harris and senior Jeremiah Martin combined to make only five of 25 shots from the field, Harris going one for nine from three-point range. "Tyler got some great looks today," noted Hardaway. "Maybe he was too anxious. He's a freshman and we lean on him a lot. We missed the shots we needed to make early."

The game officials made for a significant third team on the floor, calling a total of 57 fouls (35 against Memphis) and sending the Vols to the foul line for 46 shots (they made 39). The Tigers hit 16 of 22 from the charity stripe, yielding 23 points to UT when the clock was not running. "You just gotta play [better] defense, and stop fouling," said Tiger senior Mike Parks, limited to 18 minutes by foul trouble. "They were more aggressive, the entire game," added Hardaway. "That's why they shot more free throws."
Penny Hardaway pleads the Tiger case.
  • Penny Hardaway pleads the Tiger case.

Schofield played more than a supporting role to Williams for Tennessee, scoring 29 points and pulling down 11 rebounds. "You could really feel the passion for both teams," said Schofield. "It was a great stage. The biggest thing was making a statement for our program. I'm proud of how we came in and took care of business. We're gonna get back to work and take our season to the next level. We know we're gonna see every team's best."

The Tigers will travel to Knoxville next season to resume the regional rivalry, and a game has been scheduled in Nashville for the 2020-21 season. Local fans will have to settle for Saturday's loss serving as an early benchmark for growth of the Tiger program, the sting of defeat serving as a motivator for achieving new levels of success, foreign in these parts for too long.

"For this team to sell out this arena, it really shows that everybody is buying in," said Hardaway, who liked his team's fight over the game's 40 minutes and the 92 points it scored against a top-five team. "I'm happy these guys got to be in front of the great fans we have [in Memphis]. Last year was not who we were [as a program]. We're headed in the right direction. We're going to higher places, and we'll be there sooner than later."

Memphis returns to the FedExForum hardwood Wednesday night when Little Rock comes to town.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Familiar Foes

Posted By on Mon, Dec 10, 2018 at 9:20 AM

The single most memorable Tiger basketball game at FedExForum since the building opened (in 2004) is the Tennessee game played on February 23, 2008. That Saturday night, downtown Memphis was the center of the college basketball universe as top-ranked  and undefeated Memphis — led by freshman sensation Derrick Rose — faced the second-ranked Vols, a program surging at the time under third-year coach Bruce Pearl. Alas, the visitors snuck away with a win (66-62), though the outcome wasn't decided until the final minute. The four-year-old Forum almost blew its lid.

Penny Hardaway's Tigers will host the Vols this Saturday, the first time in almost six years the cross-state sometimes-rivals have played. It will be the first time in almost seven years that the Big Orange — basketball chapter — has taken the floor in Memphis, and only the third time since that one-two tussle of 2008. Ranked third in the country and slayers last weekend of top-ranked Gonzaga, the Vols make the 2018-19 Tiger season stronger merely by being on the schedule. Should the Tigers pull off an upset Saturday, the game could be a definitive snapshot from Hardaway's rookie season as coach.
The Bartow Bash - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • The Bartow Bash

So why aren't the Vols on the Tigers' schedule every year? And what about UAB? (Memphis beat the Blazers last Saturday at FedExForum.) The UAB program is a Memphis cousin, having been founded by the great Gene Bartow, the coach who led the Tigers to the brink of a national championship in 1973. As fellow members, first, of the Great Midwest Conference (Hardaway remembers those days well) and later Conference USA, Memphis and UAB played each other every season from 1990-91 through 2012-13, usually twice and, now and then, three times (when they met in a league tourney). This wasn't 1980s Memphis State-Louisville, but it was a familiar foe, a regional rival, and it felt good to beat the Blazers, painful to lose to them.

Memphis has 13 nonconference games on its schedule this season. Three are determined somewhat by the luck (up or down) of a holiday tournament. This means Hardaway and Memphis athletic director Tom Bowen have 10 chances to make the kind of mark that 1) helps the Tiger program grow and 2) sells the Tiger program to the regional — better yet, national — market Memphis craves. Kentucky has been tossed around in casual conversation as a future Tiger opponent, and let's hope that happens while John Calipari is still wearing Lexington blue. But gazing further ahead, Memphis needs to secure annual meetings that feed both the program and its fan base.

The Tigers should play Tennessee every year, just as Kentucky faces Louisville. I've yet to hear a counterpoint to this argument that holds water. Former Memphis coach Josh Pastner was said to fear losing recruits to Knoxville if the Tigers played the Vols. If Memphis becomes second-fiddle to the University of Tennessee in basketball, far more has been lost than a five-star forward.

In addition to Tennessee, Memphis should schedule two of the following three programs annually: UAB, Arkansas, and Ole Miss. The Bluff City centers a tri-state region and should build on its scattered history with the Razorbacks and Rebels. And UAB belongs in the mix for the Bartow connection alone. It's a legacy worth keeping and cultivating. Call this annual meeting the "Bartow Bash" and two programs would be better for it.

Hardaway acknowledges the importance of familiar foes in college basketball. "It's great for the city of Memphis," he said after the UAB win. "To have UAB, Tennessee, and we can probably try to get Louisville back. We're gonna have Ole Miss next year. It's a beautiful thing. It gives siblings, family members, and friends bragging rights for the year. I'm really going to enjoy those games."

You know that contempt bred by familiarity? It happens to also be an adrenaline booster, fuel for a Memphis program on the rise, but still climbing.

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Saturday, December 8, 2018

Tigers 94, UAB 76

Posted By on Sat, Dec 8, 2018 at 3:48 PM

Let's call it the Bartow Bash and make it an annual affair.

For only the second time since departing Conference USA after the 2012-13 season, Memphis hosted the UAB Blazers Saturday afternoon at FedExForum. Longtime rivals in both the Great Midwest Conference (Penny Hardaway's playing days) and C-USA, the Tigers and Blazers share the legacy of Gene Bartow, the College Basketball Hall of Famer who coached Memphis State to the 1973 Final Four and founded the UAB program in 1978. Under a banner honoring Bartow in the FEF rafters, the Tigers pulled away early — hitting seven of nine three-point attempts over the game's first 12 minutes — to earn the win and improve to 5-4 for the season. The loss drops UAB to 6-3 (and 11-38 alltime against Memphis).
Tyler Harris - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tyler Harris

"A total group effort," emphasized Tiger coach Penny Hardaway. "So many contributors today. I'm very excited about the direction we're heading. We've still got work to do, but I'm proud of the effort today."

Freshman guard Tyler Harris led the way for the Tigers with 24 points. He hit four three-pointers and connected on 10 of 11 shots from the foul line. In his fifth straight game off the Memphis bench, Kyvon Davenport scored 21 points in 25 minutes and led the Tigers with eight rebounds. The senior forward seems to like the supporting role. "It doesn't matter if I start or not," said Davenport after the game. "I wasn't doing so well at the start of the season, and I'm getting more rebounds [coming off the bench]. I like it."

Davenport drained a key three-pointer after UAB closed a 10-point halftime deficit to four (63-59) with just under 11 minutes left in the game. It was one of three treys (in five attempts) Davenport made in the victory.

"Kyvon is really unstoppable," said Hardaway. "I haven't seen any one guy shut Kyvon down. Only he [himself] can shut Kyvon down. Go out there and show these guys they're not on your level. Play freely. When he plays these type of games — scoring almost a point a minute — we're going to be tough to beat."

The Tigers had 18 assists in the game and only 11 turnovers, their best such ratio in nine games. They forced 17 Blazer turnovers and closed out defensively at the arc in the second half, holding UAB to one-of-ten from long range after the Blazers hit eight of 12 three-point attempts before halftime.
Penny Hardaway - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Penny Hardaway

Senior guard Jeremiah Martin scored 14 points and handed out five assists. Isaiah Maurice was an early factor off the bench, scoring six points, but was limited to 12 minutes of playing time by foul trouble.

Lewis Sullivan led UAB with 14 points, one of five Blazers to reach double figures in the scoring column.

The victory gives Hardaway his first winning streak as a head coach, if but two games. The Tigers will now have a week off before facing one of their toughest tests of the season.

"The guys are starting to understand our schemes," said Hardaway. "They're starting to take charges, get 50-50 balls. We didn't box out as well as we should have today, but we're well aware of those mistakes. It's all hands on deck next weekend against Tennessee, because they're a very good team."

Currently ranked 7th in the country, the Vols visit FedExForum on December 15th for the first time since the 2011-12 season. Tip-off is scheduled for 11 a.m.

NOTE: Coach Hardaway bobbleheads were given to the first 7,500 fans in attendance at Saturday's game. The rookie coach appreciated the promotion: "I've had bobbleheads before, of course, but never in a suit."

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Tigers 88, South Dakota State 80

Posted By on Tue, Dec 4, 2018 at 11:44 PM

If you remain curious about the Penny Hardaway Experiment with Memphis Tiger basketball, you had 13,583 reasons Tuesday night to believe it's heading in the right direction. With South Dakota State in town — not so much a rival as an exotic outpost on the college basketball landscape — on a Tuesday night in early December, FedExForum welcomed more fans than attended any Tiger game during the 2017-18 season. The big crowd left happy, too, as the Tigers beat the Jackrabbits to end a two game losing streak and improve to 4-4 on the season.
Alex Lomax - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Alex Lomax

Freshman guard Tyler Harris hit four three-pointers and led the Tigers in scoring (along with senior guard Jeremiah Martin) with 22 points. Harris also drew three charges, defensive stops that energized his new coach as a young team seeks cohesiveness and a playing style that, Hardaway believes, will yield more wins than losses.

"It's a huge win for us," said Hardaway after the game. "You gotta the first one coming off the road. A three-headed monster: Mike Daum [18 points], David Jenkins [35], and Skyler Flatten [13]. We knew what they were going to be, and they were as advertised. I'm proud of the guys for hanging in there. Guys got uncomfortable today and did things they weren't used to doing, and we came away with a great team victory."

As distant as South Dakota State may seem, the Jackrabbits have played longer seasons of late than Memphis, appearing in the NCAA tournament each of the last three years. They entered Tuesday's contest with a 7-2 record and riding a four-game winning streak. Daum is an All-America candidate who carried averages of 24.1 points and 11.2 rebounds to tip-off. The Tigers held him to 18 and 4, respectively, primarily by getting him into early foul trouble, an objective Hardaway acknowledged following the game. "To keep him below his averages, we had to get him out of the game," said Hardaway. "We planned to go at him on the post, and continue to put pressure on him."

Isaiah Maurice came off the Memphis bench and scored 10 points, grabbed eight rebounds, and blocked four shots in 20 minutes to counter Daum's presence.
Penny Hardaway - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Penny Hardaway

The Tigers fell behind early (10-5), but took the lead on a Kyvon Davenport three-pointer six minutes into the game. They extended the lead to eight points (40-32) by halftime and never trailed in the second half. South Dakota State committed 23 turnovers and shot 45 percent from the field (more than half the Jackrabbits' shots were from three-point range). The Tigers shot 51 percent from the field and matched their own 17 turnovers with 17 assists (that ratio being an early-season concern).

"Coach Penny is never going to scoot down to our level," said freshman guard Alex Lomax, who contributed 12 points in 29 minutes. "People are getting on the same page, even changing their games [to improve]."

"The teams we've played have helped point us in the right direction," said Hardaway. Eight games in, Memphis has already faced a pair of Top 25 teams and multiple programs that played in the NCAA tournament last March. The Tigers' next six games will be at FedExForum, starting with an old Conference USA rival — UAB — Saturday afternoon. (The Blazers beat Memphis last year in Birmingham.)

Their regular season having already reached the quarter pole, the Tigers have big-picture goals, but within a more narrow frame, one where progress can be more easily measured and quantified. Lomax summarized it nicely late Tuesday night: "We're trying to win the month of December."

Monday, December 3, 2018

Highs and Lows

Posted By on Mon, Dec 3, 2018 at 10:13 AM

Last summer, many people — some of them experts — predicted the Memphis Tigers would repeat as American Athletic Conference West Division champions but lose to UCF in the league's title game. By that measure, the Tigers' 2018 season has been as predictable as Alabama and Clemson making the College Football Playoff. By other measures, though, this Tiger team will be as memorable as any that played before. A few lasting impressions:

• Memphis-UCF is no rivalry. The Knights have now beaten the Tigers 13 times in a row. That's a big dog treating a little dog like a chew toy. UCF has owned Memphis in seasons of misery (2009-12) and in seasons of success (the Knights are responsible for half of the Tigers' eight defeats the last two years). And we were reminded in last Saturday's championship game that UCF's Josh Heupel is a better halftime coach than the Tigers' Mike Norvell. Memphis led their regular-season meeting at halftime, 30-17, but didn't score after the break. Memphis led last weekend at halftime, 38-21, but scored only three points after the break. Those first halves were cruel teases. UCF is the standard that Norvell, his staff, and players must aim to reach. Don't call it a rivalry yet.
Patrick Taylor - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Patrick Taylor

• I'm not convinced UCF needed any help from officials to beat the Tigers last Saturday. Touchdowns on five straight Knight possessions in the second half made for a thorough drubbing. But the officiating was, at best, cloudy. Flags picked up (that would have benefited the Tigers). Flags thrown for borderline infractions (that penalized the Tigers). To the critics and conspiracy theorists, I'd say . . . speak louder. Holding — offensive or defensive — can be called on virtually every snap of a football game. It's as common as touch fouls in basketball (which occur on every single drive to the basket if a team is actually defending). This makes for an easy method to sway a game in one team's favor should an officiating crew be tasked with doing so. The AAC had much to gain from a UCF win, namely a lengthy undefeated streak for the country to analyze (now 25 games) and another berth for the Knights in a New Year's Six bowl game. Did the officials discuss this in their pregame meeting? I doubt it. But their shoddy performance begs the question. So keep asking the question.

• For the first 85 years of Memphis Tiger football (1912-96), the program produced precisely one 1,000-yard season from a running back: Dave Casinelli's 1,016 yards in 1963. Since 1997, Gerard Arnold, DeAngelo Williams, and Curtis Steele added a total of six such four-figure seasons. But here in 2018, the University of Memphis has two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season. Whatever you take from the 2018 Tigers, absorb this, for it will not likely be seen again. Darrell Henderson will enter the Birmingham Bowl with 1,909 yards (and a Tiger-record 25 touchdowns). With 56 yards against Wake Forest, Henderson will break Williams's single season record of 1,964. (Williams carried the ball 310 times in his 2005 record-setting campaign. Henderson has 214 carries to date.) And when Henderson hasn't been sprinting past linebackers and safeties, Patrick Taylor has, to the tune of 1,012 yards (and 16 total touchdowns) on 178 carries. It's a good time to salute the Tiger offensive line that has blasted cartoonish holes for this duo: (from left to right) Trevon Tate, Dylan Parham, Drew Kyser, Dustin Woodard (first-team All-AAC), and Roger Joseph. Football is a pass-happy game these days. Until you combine the talent Memphis compiled this season in its backfield and offensive line.

• An ugly detail of the 2018 Tiger season: Memphis has beaten only one team that finished its regular season with more wins than losses (Houston). And this won't change even with a win in the Birmingham Bowl (Wake Forest is 6-6). The Tigers will suit up some extraordinary players on December 22nd, but as a group, does this team want its legacy win to be the upset of Houston (minus its star quarterback) at the Liberty Bowl? These Tigers desperately need a win in their bowl game, the more thorough the better. For all the program's recent success — and bowl games have become customary here — Memphis has lost its last three postseason games. I'm not sure any previous Tiger team has needed a bowl victory more.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

AAC Championship: #7 UCF 56, Tigers 41

Posted By on Sat, Dec 1, 2018 at 6:43 PM

Make it 25 wins in a row for the UCF Knights.

Led by their backup quarterback, the Knights overcame a 17-point halftime deficit to win their second straight American Athletic Conference championship. Filling in for the injured McKenzie Milton (the AAC's Offensive Player of the Year), D.J. Mack passed for a pair of touchdowns and ran for four more to keep UCF's record unblemished (12-0) and set up a likely New Year's Six bowl game for a second year in a row. The loss ends a four-game winning streak for the Tigers.
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Memphis capitalized on three UCF turnovers in the first half and roared to an early lead behind its sublime running back tandem of Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor. Henderson ran for more than 200 yards and three touchdowns before halftime. Taylor scored on a 70-yard touchdown run and, with 118 yards for the game, surpassed 1,000 yards for the season. (Henderson's season total is now 1,909. It's the first time in Tiger history a team has had two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season.) Henderson's three touchdowns give him 25 this year, a new Memphis single-season record.

Just as they did in a win at the Liberty Bowl in October, the Knights elevated play on both sides of the ball after halftime. They scored touchdowns on five straight possessions, four of them runs of no more than five yards by Mack. The Tiger offense, meanwhile, ran into a wall, settling for a single Riley Patterson field goal in the second half.

Memphis gained 583 yards, but UCF accumulated 698. The Tigers rushed for 401, the Knights 350.

The victory gives UCF 13 straight in its series with the Tigers dating back to 2005. The Tigers' only win came in 1990, when the Knights competed as a I-AA program.

Now 8-5, Memphis will learn its bowl-game destination Sunday.

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