“We will take a win any way we can get it” was the opening statement from University of Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway after the Tigers defeated UCONN 78-71 in front of 17,162 at FedExForum.
The Tigers entered the UCONN game losers of four of the last five games and had lost the last three. Looking for senior leadership, Hardaway went with his seniors as starters for the second consecutive time.
In the loss to Cincinnati, Hardaway had wanted the seniors to lead the way, with the freshmen adding to it. The freshmen only mustered four points.
The results were better against UCONN’s Huskies. The Tigers started fast, making back-to-back three-points shots and taking a lead (6-1) that they never relinquished.
“It is to a point now where we have to be desperate,” Hardaway said. “There will be times in the game where we are going to have some lax and lulls from certain guys, but for the most part we have got to play as hard as we can to get leads. We had to get this win”.
The Tigers paid attention to the details, the small things, Hardaway said of the quick start.
Memphis controlled the tempo the entire first half, with the lead surging to 12 points. Kyvon Davenport led the way with 16 points in the first half. Isaiah Maurice and Tyler Harris both added 7 points off the bench.
First-year Huskies coach Dan Hurley put on an animated sideline show, constantly communicating — in a very coloful manner — with the game officials about calls he felt should have been called another way. in a very colorful manner. He was not shy with his language to his players.
Asked about Hurley’s antics, Hardaway smiled and said, “That’s my guy. You can’t miss Danny. He is very energetic. He is going to talk the entire game, because I know he is a competitor.”
Hurley, in his post-game press conference, said he had to be the battery pack to keep his players going so they would not have letdown. The Huskies were shorthanded. Still, Hurley got an all-out effort to keep the game close.
Hardaway said the Tigers made numerous in-game adjustments to secure the win.
“Once they make their adjustments you have to do the same. They brought the big boy in and we made a ton of mistakes on him. On the defensive end, we just had to make him play.”
Photo gallery: (Photos by Warren Roseborough)
The Tigers also opened the second half quickly, pushing the lead to 14 points (44-30). UCONN battled back to a four-point game with 1:30 left, but the Tigers seniors were just too much for the Huskies.
The Tigers had four players with double-digit points. Davenport led the way with 26, followed by Jeremiah Martin and Tyler Harris off the bench with 12 points each, and Raynere Thornton adding 11 points.
The Huskies had balanced scoring, with four players scoring in double digits. Tyler Polley had 20 points. The Huskies out-rebounded the Tigers (37-28) mostly in the second half; 16 of those were offensive rebounds.
The Tigers (14-10, 6-5) are sixth in the American Athletic Conference. The first four finishers earn a first-round conference tournament bye.
NEXT: The Tigers go on the road, where they have only won one game this season. They travel to Greenville, NC to face the East Carolina Pirates on Wednesday (February 13) at 6 p.m. The game can be seen on ESPN3.