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.

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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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#20 Texas Tech 78, Tigers 67

Posted By on Sat, Dec 1, 2018 at 4:50 PM

Rookie coaches learn a lot over the course of a college basketball season. Penny Hardaway will now learn how to cope with a losing streak. The 20th-ranked Red Raiders of Texas Tech erased an 12-point second-half deficit to beat Memphis at the Hoophall Invitational in Miami. The loss drops the Tigers to 3-4 for the season while Texas Tech improves to 7-0.

Jarrett Culver led the Red Raiders with 20 points. Tariq Owens added 13 points, 11 rebounds, and eight blocked shots.

Freshman guard Tyler Harris led the Tigers with 17 points and senior forward Kyvon Davenport added 13 off the bench. Senior guard Jeremiah Martin continues to search for his game, missing 10 of 12 shots Saturday afternoon (and all five of his three-point attempts). Memphis shot 35 percent from the field while Texas Tech hit 49 percent from the floor.

The game was the first between these programs since early in the 1985-86 season.

The Tigers' next seven games will be played at FedExForum, starting Tuesday night when South Dakota State visits. Memphis will then face a pair of regional rivals on consecutive Saturdays: UAB (December 8th) and Tennessee (December 15th).

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

Posted By on Wed, Nov 28, 2018 at 10:58 AM

Put down the voodoo dolls! The American Athletic Conference's two best quarterbacks — Houston's D'Eriq King and UCF's McKenzie Milton — each go down with season-ending injuries a week before their teams play Memphis. Spooky stuff. King's absence may have been the difference in the Tigers' win over Houston last Friday, a game that was tied at 31 entering the fourth quarter. As for this week, beware a good team playing for a cause. The entire UCF roster will be playing for Milton Saturday in Orlando, not necessarily the intangible Memphis needs in this matchup. On the other hand, the Knights have utterly dominated this series, winning 12 straight. If the Tigers aren't motivated by such a one-sided "rivalry," they need not suit up.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Mike Norvell

After clinching the AAC's West Division title a second straight year, coach Mike Norvell emphasized the "hard-earned culture" that now exists in and around the Memphis football program. It's an apt description. The Tigers have won more games over the last five seasons (45) than they did over the previous ten (2004-13). No Memphis team scored 500 points in a season before 2015. The Tigers have now scored more than 500 points in four straight seasons (the last three under Norvell). Here's the big-picture challenge for the U of M: How does a culture outlast a coach?

Norvell has been mentioned in the current searches for a new coach at Colorado and Texas Tech. I'm not convinced either job would be a step up, regardless of the Power Five qualifications at each program. But Norvell will not spend his entire career on the Memphis sideline. He's too young (37), wins too much, and there are too many programs out there with deeper pockets than an AAC program can claim. So the challenge — for Memphis athletic director Tom Bowen and those who helped find Justin Fuente and Norvell — is keeping a hard-earned culture alive regardless of who happens to be sitting in the head coach's office. This week's opponent is a prime example, UCF now ranked 7th in the country after a coaching transition last winter.

The AAC championship will be closer than the SEC championship. The Tigers and Knights will be playing (on ABC) at the same time Alabama and Georgia stage a rematch of last year's national championship contest (on CBS). I'm convinced the better game will the one with the smaller viewing audience. Last year's AAC championship was, by some measures, the game of the year (nationally), UCF winning, 62-55, in two overtimes. The Knights beat Memphis in October, 31-30, after erasing a 13-point deficit. Two of the top eight scoring teams in the country — they each average more than 43 points per game — should make for a thrilling Saturday afternoon in Orlando. My prediction: Memphis wins the game, but only if the Tigers rush for 250 yards. (The U of M is 7-1 in such games this season, the only loss coming against . . . UCF.)

Monday, November 26, 2018

Penny's Players

Posted By on Mon, Nov 26, 2018 at 8:59 AM

I stood in a crowded media room at the University of Memphis Athletics Office Building in January 2005, awaiting a Decision. Certain announcements get the capital-letter treatment, and this was one of them. DeAngelo Williams — the incomparable Tiger running back — was to announce whether he would return to the U of M for his senior season or enter his name for the upcoming NFL draft. There were more than 100 people packed into that room, and we were split on the choice Williams would make. He was ready to play professionally . . . but might he want to play another year in college?

Williams announced he was staying. To this day, the cheer that greeted that announcement is the loudest I've heard at a "sporting event" where no score was being kept. It was utter joy, magnified by each individual in that room.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Penny Hardaway

James Wiseman's Decision (yep, capital letter), announced last week in the auditorium at East High School, may prove to be as significant as the one Williams made almost 14 years ago. And the announcement — this time with a stuffed unicorn as part of the fun — elicited a massive roar from those in attendance (many of them longtime Tiger boosters). But there's a significant difference between the Williams and Wiseman Decisions: there was no drama last week, no matter how much the ESPN crew and cameras craved it. We knew James Wiseman would play basketball at Memphis, not on November 20th, but on March 20th, when Penny Hardaway took the job as Tiger coach. The young man's family moved here from Nashville to play for Hardaway in high school. That decision (lower case) was likely harder than the one the seven-foot star made last week.

Think about it. Would a high-profile local basketball prospect host a public gathering in his new hometown, during college basketball's early signing period, to announce he's leaving for greener pastures? If young hoop stars have learned nothing else from the great LeBron James, they've learned televised Decisions can backfire and damage a man's reputation for years. Sure, there were four other logos — Wiseman's "finalists" — displayed in the East auditorium. Best of all, Kentucky's was on the board. But there was no drama, no doubt. And the finest tribute we can pay Penny Hardaway in his transformation of the Tiger program is that we all saw this coming.

When the Tigers tip off the 2019-20 season, 60 percent of Hardaway's starting lineup may well be the same 60 percent that helped him win a 2017-18 Tennessee state championship at East. In addition to Wiseman, forward Malcolm Dandridge (a four-star recruit himself) is part of the 2019 Memphis recruiting class. Alex Lomax — a freshman at the U of M and once a Wichita State commit — is already starting for the Tigers. These are Penny's players. They'll wear blue and gray because Hardaway is now (again) wearing blue and gray. If the University of Memphis has ever realized so quick a return — and so game-changing a return — on an investment, it may have involved Keith Lee and a shoebox full of cash.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither were Hardaway's Memphis Tigers. The current team's interior weakness was exposed during a 20-point loss to Oklahoma State in Orlando on Thanksgiving. Through six games — 20 percent of the regular season — Kyvon Davenport leads Memphis with a pedestrian 6.6 rebounds per game. The Tigers are in need of a player who can protect the rim on defense and attack it when they own the ball. Hmmm. I wonder where one of those might be found?

Wiseman's announcement was no surprise. Nor should be the occasional stumble this season as a rookie coach gets to know a roster tasked with being, essentially, a preview of things to come. And that's the first real challenge of the Coach Hardaway Era: accept present shortcomings as we await exceptional solutions.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Charleston 78, Tigers 75

Posted By on Sun, Nov 25, 2018 at 8:19 PM

The metronomic start to Penny Hardaway's coaching career with the Tigers continues. Win, loss, win, loss, win, and Sunday evening in Orlando, a loss to the College of Charleston.

Tyler Harris's three-point attempt with two seconds left on the clock fell short, giving the Cougars a win in the fifth-place game at the AdvoCare Invitational. The freshman guard was a primary reason Memphis battled Charleston — a 2018 NCAA tournament team — to the finish, with seven treys and a team-high 25 points.

The Tigers led at the half (42-40) but only got to the free-throw line 14 times (making 8), while the Cougars hit 17 of 21 shots from the foul line. Grant Riller scored 32 points to lead Charleston and Brevin Galloway added 15 on five three-point shots.

Jeremiah Martin's layup with a minute to play gave the Tigers the lead (75-74) and moved the senior guard from Mitchell High School into the Tigers' 1,000-point club. But Jarrell Brantley and Riller each hit two free throws in the game's closing seconds to help Charleston improve to 5-2 for the season. Memphis freshman Alex Lomax was called for a moving screen with the Tigers down a point (76-76) with 16 seconds left.

The Tigers (3-3) will have five days off before traveling back to Florida where they'll face Texas Tech next Saturday in the Hoop Hall Miami Invitational. They return to FedExForum on December 4th for the first of seven consecutive home games (against South Dakota State).

Friday, November 23, 2018

Tigers 71, Canisius 63

Posted By on Fri, Nov 23, 2018 at 6:28 PM

Let's call it the consolation bracket.

In a game between teams that lost in Thursday's quarterfinals of the AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando, the Tigers beat Canisius with a new starting lineup, one that resulted in a new star off coach Penny Hardaway's bench.

Kyvon Davenport
scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as a reserve Friday afternoon to help Memphis improve to 3-2 on the young season. Davenport and Isaiah Maurice were replaced in the Tiger starting lineup by a pair of seniors, Mike Parks and Raynere Thornton. Parks scored 14 points and grabbed five rebounds in only 17 minutes (he picked up three fouls).

Jeremiah Martin added 10 points and Antwann Jones 14 off the bench to help their team avoid the first consecutive losses under Hardaway. Memphis earned the win despite missing 13 of 14 shots from three-point range. The Tigers had 20 turnovers and only 14 assists.

Memphis finishes its three-game appearance in Orlando on Sunday when the Tigers play the winner of Friday's Charleston-UAB game. Tip-off is scheduled for 5:30.

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Tigers 52, Houston 31

Posted By on Fri, Nov 23, 2018 at 4:46 PM

Improbable championships are the ones we remember most. In beating Houston Friday at the Liberty Bowl, the Memphis Tigers earned the American Athletic Conference's West Division title despite starting the month of November with a 1-3 record in league play. Four straight wins give the Tigers a final regular-season record of 8-4, with a 5-3 mark in the AAC, just strong enough to earn a tiebreaker with Houston (and/or Tulane and/or SMU). The Tigers will face 8th-ranked UCF on December 1st in a rematch of last year's scintillating AAC championship game.
Senior center Drew Kyser - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Senior center Drew Kyser

Tiger coach Mike Norvell got emotional in describing the win for gathered media after the game, particularly in reflecting on the seniors who played their last home game, players who have brought a "hard-earned culture" to the U of M, one strong enough to overcome the kind of adversity a 65-33 midseason loss (at Missouri) brings a group. "The way this team has grown throughout the year . . . a lot of adversity," he emphasized. "They continued to work, to believe in each other. I'm grateful for their belief in our coaching staff. We've seen a lot of maturity. People remember what you do in November, and this team responded. This sets up another opportunity, against a great opponent, a classic game. We're gonna compete for a conference championship."

Houston played without its star quarterback D'Eriq King. The AAC's total-offense leader injured a knee in the Cougars' win over Tulane on November 15th. Clayton Tune filled in capably, tossing three touchdown passes, but he was twice sacked on fourth-down plays — by Bryce Huff and Jonathan Wilson — to extinguish Houston drives.

The Memphis game plan, according to Norvell and those most responsible, was to run the ball against a vulnerable Houston defense (ranked 118th in the country), one compromised by a recent injury to All-America lineman Ed Oliver. (Oliver did not play in the second half.) The Tigers ran the ball on 59 plays, compared with 33 passes, and accumulated 401 yards, enough to shatter the program's single-season rushing record (now 3,311 yards). Darrell Henderson — one of three finalists for the Doak Walker Award — ran for 178 yards, Patrick Taylor 128, and Tony Pollard 83. Sixth-year senior Sam Craft got in on the fun with a 28-yard touchdown run early in the the third quarter that erased a 21-17 Houston lead. Craft now has the distinction of scoring a touchdown in five seasons for the Tigers (2013-16 and 2018).

Taylor was afraid he would draw a penalty when he realized how far onto the field he ran to celebrate Craft's score, the Olive Branch native's first in more than two years. "The smile on my face was so big," said Taylor, who scored two touchdowns of his own and now has 15 for the season. "The game plan was to run the ball and the offensive line got it done," said Taylor. They got movement up front." Three of those linemen — center Drew Kyser, and tackles Trevon Tate and Roger Joseph — are seniors, and all five have started every game this season for Memphis. "The whole season was a test of faith," added Taylor. "But we kept grinding."
Senior linebacker Curtis Akins - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Senior linebacker Curtis Akins

Tiger faith was tested in the second quarter when Memphis quarterback Brady White threw a pair of damaging interceptions. Cougar safety Gleson Sprewell intercepted both, returning the first 63 yards to give Houston a 21-17 lead and pulling in the second at the Cougar one-yard line when it appeared Memphis would regain the lead before halftime.

The score was deadlocked at 24 when Pollard skipped six yards untouched around the right side of the Memphis line for a touchdown with 2:41 left to play in the third quarter. The Cougars answered with a one-minute touchdown drive of their own, tying the score at 31 through three quarters.

The Memphis offense found itself facing fourth-and-one at the Tiger 44-yard line as time expired in the third quarter. According to Norvell, there was never a question about whether or not to go for the first down. Henderson took the hand-off from White and rambled through the right side of the Tiger line to retain possession. The drive culminated in a one-yard Taylor touchdown to give the Tigers all the points they needed.

"You think about the moment," said Norvell. "You think of who you are, who you have, and the belief in the guys up front. That was a special play. Our guys controlled the game from that point on."

In taking his season rushing total to 1,699 yards, Henderson establishes a new single-season record for the six-year-old AAC. His two touchdowns — one of them a 60-yard gallop down the left sideline in the fourth quarter — give Henderson 22 for the season, one shy of DeAngelo Williams's Tiger record.

But the individual numbers, however grand, take second fiddle to a major team goal attained. "I don't know if words can explain how sweet this one is," said Pollard, who added 116 receiving yards and a 37-yard kickoff return to his rushing total. "Early in the season, a lot of people counted us out, but things played out the right way and here we are. We never counted ourselves out."

"They're willing to respond when they're knocked down," said Norvell. "That's what makes up a champion."

Cornerback Tito Windham was one of 13 Tiger seniors honored before kickoff. The AAC West Division trophy, presented after the game, served as a nice bookend for his final game at the Liberty Bowl. "We counted on each other," said Windham. "We believed in each other. That's a big family in that locker room. We had to get the details right."

And what does Windham think of facing UCF again for an AAC championship? "There's a lot you can gain from playing a team twice in a season. We'll be ready."

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