Tennessee and Memphis played for the first time since 2013 on Saturday at the FedEx Forum and they did not disappoint. The sold out venue was rocking all afternoon as the Tigers tried to rally and keep pace with the third-ranked Vols. Tennessee jumped out to a big lead and never really looked back, but you definitely saw a rivalry renewed on Saturday in Memphis.
“Honestly, we know that we’re loved here in Memphis,” Tennessee wing Admiral Schofield said with a big smile. “The fans really showed it out there. The biggest thing was coming in and making a statement for our program. Everybody is going to be very motivated for next year’s game. The atmosphere was great. We really felt the rivalry.”
Schofield dropped 29 points while shooting 8-12 from the floor. It was the second straight game where his efforts really powered Tennessee to a victory. Unfortunately for Schofield, it was his first and only taste of this rivalry.
“When we first got here and I kind of went around the state, people talked about us playing Memphis,” Barnes said after the game. “I really believe basketball in the state of Tennessee is underrated on a national level. There’s great basketball in this state.”
Saturday proved why this game should be played every single year. The passion you saw from both sides showed that this rivalry is still alive and well, despite taking a few years off.
The road hostility was great for Tennessee to experience, who will go through SEC play with a giant target on their back. They may not get an experience like they did at Memphis every night, but they’ll probably be just about every opponent’s biggest game of the season.
“We knew coming in that this would be a major game for them,” Barnes said. “We’ve played in big arenas like this. This group has grown up doing this and played in arenas where it’s live. They got going a little bit — I don’t know if they ever got it below 11 (points), I can’t remember. We knew we were going to have to play. It wasn’t exactly the way we would have liked to have played it, but we got a win against a good team. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Penny Hardaway is going to do a terrific job here with this program.”
We probably just saw Hardaway’s worst Memphis team we will ever seen in this series. He’s already recruiting at a high level, pulling the No. 1 player in the 2019 class along with another top 50 prospect. It won’t take him too long to have the Tigers’ talent level back to a big time level.
Tennessee and Memphis will play in 2019 in Knoxville, then in 2020 in Nashville. After what you saw on Saturday, it’s hard to imagine this game going away again. Hopefully this becomes a date we can circle on the calendar every year.