The Penny Hardaway era at the University of Memphis got off to a roaring start.
The new coach of the Tigers faced the Golden Eagles of Tennessee Tech in his first official game of his college coaching career. The Tigers did not let down their coach and cruised to a 76-61 win in front of 15,321 at FedExForum.
That was the largest crowd to see a Tiger basketball game since the season finale against Tulsa in 2016. This is also the second consecutive game that the Tigers have drawn over 10K fans to see them play this season.
The fans didn’t go unnoticed by the players nor the coaches. Hardaway said it felt like the old days when the place was packed with fans.
Senior guard Jeremiah Martin was energized by the crowd and when the team was sluggish, Martin bombed in a couple of three-point baskets to get into the game.
Martin led the Tigers with 14 points in the first half en route to a 46-31 halftime lead for the Tigers. The Tigers used a smothering defense in the first half to force 15 Golden Eagles turnovers and held them to shooting only 40 percent from the field.
The freshmen had a bad night offensively for the Tigers. Tyler Harris and David Wingett were held scoreless and Antwan Jones only scored two points in the game. Fellow freshman Alex Lomax fared a little better scoring 8 points 5 rebounds and 4 assists.
“In the first half, we played well, but in the second half everything went downhill,” Hardaway said. “Our seniors stabilized us and our freshmen were just being freshmen. I am sure they are going to work harder and be ready for the LSU game.”
In the second half, the Tigers relied on the senior leadership of Martin and Kyvon Davenport. Davenport took over the game offensively in the second half putting up a career high of 30 points to go with his 10 rebounds.
“Everyday after practice I have been working on my jump shot,” Davenport said after the game. “My teammates did a great job of getting me the basketball. They found me a lot and I was making shots.”
Martin finished the game with 18 points.
“There is still room for improvement,” Martin said after the game. “It is the first game for a lot guys and they can see the importance in how everything counts now. The upper classmen need to lead more, but we will be good.”
The defense of the Tigers was the key to team having a bad offensive night and still not allowing the Golden Eagles to cut the Tigers’ lead below 10 points in the second half. The Tigers forced 26 Golden Eagles turnovers and had 14 steals.
Senior forward Mike Parks Jr. did participate in pregame drills and was expected to see some playing time against the Golden Eagles, but the situation did not arise, and coach Hardaway did not need to put him into the game. He is expected to make his season debut next week.
Coach Hardaway entered the press conference with the game ball that was signed by the team. Hardaway will keep the ball and place it in his office.
“(The win) feels good, because Tennessee Tech made us work,” Hardaway said. “I am thankful for the win. The game ball will go on my mantle. I never envisioned me being a college coach.”
On the struggles of Harris, Hardaway said, “I told him to keep working to keep grinding. This is how this game goes, things like this is going to happen to freshmen. He has worked his butt off his entire life. I am sure he will be in the gym shooting and getting ready for the LSU game”,
The Tigers will have a few days to learn from the mistakes made against Tennessee Tech. The Tigers will not play again until Tuesday November 12 at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. The game will be shown on the SEC Network at 6 pm central time. The Tigers lost to LSU last year at the FedExForum 71-61. The Tigers are currently ranked 23rd in the nation and will be a critical test for the young Tigers.