Memphis Tigers outlast Yale in double overtime at FedExForum, 109-102

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The Memphis Tigers’ basketball team entered the game against the Yale Bulldogs with heavy hearts.

Former teammate Karim Azab passed away this week from the complications of leukemia. Hardaway never coached Azab but said, “I spent some time with him when I took over the job and before he was diagnosed before school was out. I asked him, what did he want to do, and he said I want to play basketball.”

Tigers would defeat Yale 109-102 in double overtime in front of 14,656. The Tigers had many opportunities to yield to a more experienced Bulldog team, but the endured until the end thanks to some clutch free throws by a freshman.

All signs pointed to Yale posing problems for the Tigers’ perimeter defense. The Bulldogs made 9 of 21 three points shots in their season-opening win over the California Bears that was played in China.The Bulldogs defeated the Bears 76-59. Yale is coached by James Jones, who is the longest-tenured head coach in the Ivy League, now in his 20th season.

The Bulldogs relied heavily on the long ball in the first half. The Bulldogs made six three-pointers in the half compared to none by the Tigers. Instead, the Tigers relied on other parts of their offense to take a 47-45 lead into halftime. Mike Parks led the way with 11 points off the bench, and Alex Lomax led all starters with 10 points.

The Tigers used full-court pressure to force the Bulldogs to speed up the pace. Memphis forced Yale into more ball movement, so they wouldn’t have time nor space to shoot wide open jumpers.

The Tigers had to change their approach early in the second half when Isaiah Maurice picked up two quick fouls with 17:07 left in the game. The Tigers’ freshmen may have played like freshmen in the LSU game, but their collective worth was the difference in the game.

A turnover by the Tigers and a foul by Davenport on Eric Monroe gave Yale the lead 76-74 with 3:10 left to play, their first lead of the second half. The Bulldogs mounted many fouls up during the game and Paul Atkinson was the first to foul out with 2:33 left in the game.

The Tigers were down by six points with 1:39 left to play when Azar Swain hit a big three-pointer to extend the lead to 81-75. But a couple of quick buckets by Jeremiah Martin and Kareem Brewton Jr. quickly cut the deficit to 81-79.

Blake Reynolds’ free throw made it 82-79 with 43 seconds to play. Tyler Harris was fouled with 35.7 seconds left. Harris made one of two free throws to make it 82-80.

Reynolds was fouled by Brewton Jr and went to the line made one of two free throws and allowed the Tigers to have a chance with 15.6 seconds left and down 83-80.

The freshmen trio of Tyler Harris (22 points) Antwann Jones (7 points) and Alex Lomax (13 points) carried the team with big plays and until the seniors were able to put the game on ice. Harris had a chance to tie the game in regulation but missed on a three-point shot.

The Tigers retained the basketball and Harris got another chance to tie the game, but he was fouled on a three-point shot attempt. Harris all three critical free throws with 2.9 seconds left to send the game into overtime.

“That was the hardest moments of my life,” Harris said about how he felt at the line. “I just prayed to God before I shot every shot. He came through for me.”

“It shocked Tyler that he missed one of the two shots he had. He was shocked,” said Tigers Head Coach Penny Hardaway. “When he got his chance again, I just knew he was going to make those three. That is who Tyler is. He relishes those moments to get a chance to stick a dagger and that is what he did.”

To start the overtime, the Bulldogs were down two starters (Trey Phills and Jordan Bruner) who fouled out and another, Reynold, had four fouls. Reynold fouled out with 2:54 left in the first overtime and Yale leading 90-85.

Martin went to the line and made two free throws to make it 90-87. Defensive pressure forced a turnover and the Tigers did not capitalize on it. Martin missed both free throws.

A steal and layup by Martin made it 90-89. Alex Copeland got hot for Yale in the first overtime and scored all of the Bulldogs points in the first overtime (13) and scored 22 points in the game.

Martin was fouled with 8.7 seconds left and the Tigers down 96-94. He made one of two, but Kyvon Davenport was able to get the loose rebound and quickly called timeout.

Davenport drove to the line and was fouled. The play was reviewed by the referees and he was awarded two free throws with 3.8 left on the clock. Davenport missed the first one and made the second to force the second overtime.

On the play that Davenport went to the line wasn’t originally designed for him it was designed for Martin to take the last shot, but Hardaway told his players that if it wasn’t open for Martin and anyone could attack for the backdoor play.

After he missed the first free throw, Davenport said, “Tyler just kept telling me just pray to God, just pray to God. I prayed like Tyler said and I hit my second one. So we could go into another overtime to beat them.”

Hardaway removed his jacket for the start of the second overtime. The Tigers responded by quickly taking the lead on a layup by Martin and a three-pointer by Brewton.

The Bulldogs went cold in the second overtime. Jones looked to his bench for some help, but all of his better players had already fouled out.

Martin struggled in the first half of the game because he picked up two quick fouls.

“The refs called two fouls on me and that took my aggressiveness down,” Martin said. “I wasn’t able to play like I wanted to, but I remember going into that last overtime and coach just told me to takeover. I did what he said. I am trying to do what he expects from me being one of the leaders of the team.”

The Tigers continued to extend their lead to the largest of the game on a pair of free throws by Martin to make it 105-96. The Bulldogs did not score until 1:17 left in the second overtime and cut the lead to 105-99, but the Tigers were not letting this one slip away. And their fallen teammate, Karim, was on their minds.

“It was a great win for the team,” Martin said. “After the news we got this week, it was great to get a win. It just all fell into place. We wouldn’t want to lose and I told the guys were are going to lay it all on the line for him tonight and we are going to do that every night going forward.”

“I am proud of the guys for sticking with it,” said Tigers Head Coach Penny Hardaway. “We did not have our best stuff. We had a really good game plan coming in, but those guys just made some shots. On film, they looked good, but in person they are great. We just outlasted them.”

On slowing them down from three-point range, Hardaway said, “We missed a couple of assignments on their shooters. We did not close out properly like we should have. We were going under the screen, which we weren’t supposed to be doing. Once we made the adjustment. We made a conscious effort to be more aggressive and that worked in our favor.”

Hardaway also said his team gets their poise from their coach.

“That is how I am as a coach. If I don’t panic, you don’t panic,” he said. “We are going play hard until the time goes off the clock. We were able to keep our heads to get the win.”

The Tigers play next at the AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando starting on Thanksgiving Day against Oklahoma State. Memphis will play three games in the event.