For the University of Memphis Tigers, the next game after the game with cross-state rival Tennessee turned out to be a 99-89 squeaker over the Trojans from Little Rock.
Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway knew the peril going into Wednesday night’s game at FedExForum. All week, he and his coaching staff worked with players, cautioning them about the danger of a lax approach to the opponents from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock.
The result? The Tigers (6-5) got off to a very slow start.
With six minutes to play in the first half, the Tigers finally took the lead for good (32-31) on a couple of free throws by Kareem Brewton Jr. They led 48-39 at the break but were locked in a back-and-forth struggle late into the second half before an 11-0 run gave them breath-easier separation.
“They are kids and they were thinking they are Little Rock and we are going to beat them by 20 or 30, but this is division basketball and our players can’t take anyone lightly,” Hardaway said. We have to come out swinging.”
The game featured a lineup shakeup, with freshman Antwan Jones inserted as starting point guard in place of fellow freshman Alex Lomax.
“Antwann was doing a lot of good things out there. He had a lot of energy,” Hardaway said. “He was more aware. He was focused when the game started. He rebounded the ball, but we need more from him”.
Jones had eight points in the first half and 13 for the game. He earned the start, in part, because of improved defense.
“I have been studying a lot of teams and watching a lot of film,” he said. “I studied their tendencies. That’s why I (knew) what type of moves they would make. I just play hard and you have to have heart to play this game.”
Like the Tigers, the Trojans (5-7) were coached by a NBA veteran. UALR’s first-year head coach is former Arkansas Razorback Darrell Walker. He played for the New York Knicks, Denver Nuggets, Washington Bullets, Detroit Pistons and won a world championship ring with the Chicago Bulls. He coached the last two years at Clark University in Atlanta.
The FedExForum crowd was emotionally vested throughout the game and provided an extra boost in the last minutes. The Tigers pushed the lead to 95-87 on a basket by Kyvon Davenport at the 1:32 mark.
Davenport was fouled on the play but didn’t get a chance to shoot the free throw because he was whistled for a technical foul (intimidation), which was his fifth personal foul.picked up a fifth foul. Lomax shot and made the free throw.
“Everybody just stepped up at the end,” Davenport said. “Jeremiah (Martin) was able to score and Antwann was able to beat his defender every time. He was either getting a layup or dishing it off so others could score. That is what we can do every time. This is what we have to do for two halves and we will be able to beat a lot of teams.”
Five Tigers scored in double figures: Brewton (15), Davenport (15), Tyler Harris (14), Jones (13) and Martin (22). Davenport also grabbed 15 rebounds.
The Memphis bench outscored the Trojans 42-21. The Tigers beat the Trojans 49-23 on the boards, but they had 21 turnovers.
Martin said to have not won would have been “a bad loss.”
“That is one thing we are trying to stay away from this season. I was just trying to do whatever it took to win.”
The Tigers take on the Tigers of Tennessee State on Saturday at 2 p.m. Doors open at 11 a.m. for a watch party for the football Tigers’ in the Birmingham Bowl.