Tennessee and Memphis met in Knoxville this afternoon for the much anticipated rematch. Last year’s game offered plenty of drama — what would this year’s game bring? Well, frankly, a really ugly basketball game.
JJJ starts hot — everybody else? Not so much.
The lid was firmly secured on top of the rims at Thompson Boling Arena to start the game on Saturday afternoon — unless your name was Josiah-Jordan James. John Fulkerson, Jordan Bowden, Lamonte Turner and Yves Pons each missed shots to start this one, but luckily for the Vols, their five-star freshman guard showed up ready to roll.
James hit two three-pointers in the first five minutes and added another bucket in the paint. He scored Tennessee’s first eight points, while pacing Tennessee on the boards as well.
It was encouraging to see this early effort from James, who really hadn’t settled in offensively in the first several games. His efforts brought Tennessee a 10-5 after eight minutes of play.
Tennessee continued to lean on James, who kept getting free. He hit another from long range after the 10 minute mark, pushing the Volunteers’ lead to 15-5. But it felt like the Vols didn’t do enough damage in that span.
Memphis battles back
Tennessee’s ten point lead felt like it should have been more. You knew at some point that the shots would start to fall for the Tigers. Finally, late in the first half, they did.
Memphis pushed the pace and turned Tennessee over, creating some opportunities in transition. Tyler Harris hit a three while D.J. Jeffries and Precious Achiuwa finally got a couple of shots to fall down low.
At the under three minute mark, Memphis had slashed the Tennessee lead to 21-18. Penny Hardaway’s team continued to trap Tennessee, which created turnovers and open shots at the other end. Harris drained a corner three to make it a 23-21 game with 1:53 to play.
Harris would cap his first half off in style, hitting a layup at the buzzer to give Memphis the lead 25-24.
Tennessee had an early chance to take control of this game, but the shots weren’t falling. Considering they got a combined two first half points from Pons, Bowden and Turner, you could say they were fortunate to be down just one at half.
The grind continues in the second half
Yves Pons got back in the game to open the second half, immediately making an impact. Pons saved a bucket with a block, which created a run out chance for Bowden. It was Bowden’s first bucket of the game.
That moment didn’t spark any additional offense through, as each side settled back into a grind-it-out half court game. Achiuwa found a couple of baskets down low again, while Pons and James worked the mid-range.
After seven minutes in the second half, Memphis held a 34-33 advantage.
Tennessee’s cold shooting continued. Pons, Pember and Bowden missed wide open looks over the next few possessions. D.J. Jeffries hit a contested one on the other end, however, tipping the scales in favor of the Tigers.
Finally, at the under ten minute mark, Bowden got one to fall. It was a bucket that created by John Fulkerson fighting to keep a possession alive, then finding Bowden for the corner three in rhythm. Pons found the bottom of the net on the next possession, then Fulkerson spun and connected through contact on a layup in the paint.
Memphis kept pace, but for the first time all day, Tennessee had something going on the offensive end. The Tigers took a 42-41 lead into the under eight minute break.
Precious Achiuwa picked up his fourth foul with seven minutes to play, forcing him to the bench. Yves Pons would give Tennessee the lead on the next possession with a turnaround jumper in the paint. Hardaway needed a timeout as the Thompson Boling Arena crowd roared.
Memphis makes the plays down the stretch
Damion Baugh stopped the bleeding for Memphis, ripping the ball out of Fulkerson’s hands after a rebound. Baugh went back up with it, scoring to retake the lead for Memphis with 3:50 to play. Fulkerson continued his aggressive afternoon on the following possession, getting to the line and hitting two. Back and forth we went, as D.J. Jeffries threw down a dunk and the alley-oop.
Bowden found Turner down low for two more at the two minute mark to give the Vols another one point lead. But Baugh came up with another big play, draining an open three to give Memphis a two point lead.
Turner misfired on another three on the other end. Baugh came up short on the next possession, giving Tennessee a chance to tie or take the lead with 43 seconds left, down two.
James popped open for a three and missed, but Pons kept Tennessee alive by grabbing the rebound. He was fouled, but missed the front end of the one and one. Tennessee was forced to foul, and Alex Lomax put things away from the free throw line.
Tennessee ended up shooting 25 percent from the field, which included 15 percent from three-point range. Simply put, you’re not winning games shooting the ball like that. A combined ten points from Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner doomed Tennessee this afternoon.
When Rick Barnes needed his veterans the most, neither one could deliver. The opportunities were there, but the shooting was not.