KNOXVILLE – On Saturday, The No. 13 Memphis Tigers traveled to Knoxville to face the No. 17 Tennessee Vols, coming away with a 51-47 signature win over the Vols in front of a sold-out mostly hostile crowd in Thompson-Boling Arena.
“It was an unbelievable win by a young team,” said Tigers’ coach Penny Hardaway, “We knew we were going to have our hands full coming into this building. To bring a young team in with two starters down. We did not know how (our guys) were going to respond.”
Memphis had a terrible first half but still managed to hang around. At one point in the first half, the Tigers were shooting just 14 percent from the floor and were down by as many as 12 points (17-5). Similar to their struggles against UAB, the Tigers could not get anything going on offense.
Fortunately, the Vols were also shooting poorly and were not able to pull away. Memphis resorted to a full-court press earlier than they may have wanted to, but that was the turning point in the first half. The Tigers went on a 20-7 run to take the 25-24 lead into halftime. The Tigers had 11 first-half turnovers but forced the Vols into eight turnovers.
The Tigers’ shooting improved thanks to better scoring in the paint. The Tigers outscored the Vols 14-6 in the paint in the first half. The Tigers shooting improved to 31 percent and they held Tennessee to only shooting 20 percent in the first half.
The energy in the building was tense and may have contributed to the Tigers slow start. Former Volunteer player Grant Williams was in attendance for the game. Williams played last year for the Vols and Lester Quiñones Jr., who did not play, did not hesitate to respond to some of the social media jabs Vols fans have been throwing Tennessee won in Memphis last season.
Precious Achiuwa and Tyler Harris carried the Tigers in the first half with eight points each. Harris connected on two three-pointers to close the gap and gave the Tigers better offensive flow.
In the second half, the Tigers were a different team. Memphis shut out the hostile environment and were able to control the tempo and the flow of the game. Memphis managed to keep the lead they had at the half and expand upon it.
The team displayed some of the growth Hardaway has preached about when faced with adversity. Harris and freshman Damian Baugh made some big baskets to hold off every rally the Vols mounted. A small, but noticeable, contingent of Tiger fans in attendance occasionally chanted “Defense!” to encourage the team.
Memphis and Hardaway have not been given respect by some in the national media. will it come now?
“I hope so,” Hardaway replied. “But if it doesn’t, we are going to keep plugging away and working.”
The Tigers snapped Tennessee’s 31-game home win streak, and is the Tigers first win over a ranked team since 2014. It’s also Hardaway’s first win over a ranked team.
Next up for the Tigers: The Jackson State Tigers visit FedExForum on Saturday Dec. 21 at noon. The Tigers are now 7-0 while James Wiseman serves a 12-game NCAA suspension. Lester Quinones made the trip to Knoxville but did not dress. He may be able to return to the lineup next week.