Down on a mat that was 35-points deep in the second half, Penny Hardaway’s University of Memphis Tigers decided to “fight to the end” of the championship game in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas on Saturday.
That they did – and pulled within 14 before losing 79-63 to a highly-executing Villanova team – left Hardaway and the 5-1 Tigers sifting through what the starting point guard, Jahvon Quinerly, called a “wake us up” experience for building blocks for going forward.
“Coming down here to this tournament, wanted to play against the best, got the opportunity to play three good games, got to the championship game. Man, what a great experience,” Hardaway said. “Obviously we wanted to win, but lost to a really good Villanova team that executed, made shots, played great D, stayed together. …
“And we’ll just have to learn from this as a staff and as a team. This one will go on me because the true Memphis basketball was in that second half. And definitely it was good to see my team fight to the end.”
Villanova used a 12-0 run late in the first half to lead by as many as 30. The Tigers’ deficit ballooned to 35 midway through the second half when Memphis, which shot just 15 percent in the first half, responded with a press and 21 unanswered points on 9-of-11 shooting.
Quinerly’s nine points helped the Tigers get within 14 with 4 1/2 minutes to go before the monster rally ended.
“I told the team, ‘Let’s have some pride. Let’s go out there and leave it on the floor,’” Quinerly said. “Villanova was the more disciplined team…. I played for Villanova (6-1) before; that’s a winning culture over there. And we (the Tigers) needed something like this, I feel like, to wake us up.”
Quinerly provided a peak into the Tigers’ locker room during the halftime break.
“I was just trying to keep everybody calm. And tensions were high, but at the end of the day, like I said, I feel like we needed something like this…. We beat two good teams (Michigan and the then-No. 20-ranked Arkansas) out here, and I feel like we kind of let off the gas pedal a little bit.”
Hardaway acknowledged that it seemed as if everything that could go wrong did so in the first half for the Tigers.
“That first half was definitely a nightmare because we couldn’t make a shot, we couldn’t get a rebound, we couldn’t do anything right,” Hardaway said. “And you could just see the team just losing confidence by the second, and we never changed momentum. So that’s, to me, on a bad coaching job in the first half.
Couching his next remarks as “not really changing the tone,” Hardaway said, ot making excuses, Hardaway said, “But we don’t really have everything in yet that I usually use. So, we kind of had to stay with what we had.
“And in the second half the guys just said, ‘Hey, we’re just going to go all out. We’re going to prove that we are better than what we showed in the first half’ … definitely was proud of that effort.”
TJ Bamba scored 13 points and all of Villanova’s starters scored in double figures. David Jones scored 13 points, Quinery 12 and Caleb Mills 10 for the Tigers, who made only 7 of 25 from beyond the three-point arc.
Next up for the Tigers is battle in Oxford, Mississippi against Ole Miss on Saturday (Dec. 2).
“We can’t take this entire weekend and just be in the dumps because we lost to a good team. We beat two really good teams,” said Hardaway, answering yet another question about getting up off the mat after the championship game drubbing.
“(We) go right on the road when we get home, three more really good teams (Ole Miss, VCU, Texas A&M). So, we’re trying to build for March and April … that’s what this tournament did for us. It’s getting us prepared … we’ll go back and regroup and be ready for the next game….
“We got to go on to the next thing…. It’s only a loss if we don’t learn from it.”
(This story includes a report by the Associated Press.)