Tigers basketball is back.
In Penny Hardaway’s regular season debut as the head coach at Memphis, the Tigers left the FedEx Forum with a 76-61 victory over the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles.
A fifteen-point victory in the first game is something that would give most players and coaches an easy sleep.
Kyvon Davenport put on a show as he racked up thirty points and ten boards. It was his ninth career double-double. Jeremiah Martin scored eighteen points. The senior forward and the senior guard were the only Tigers who scored in double figures.
The Tigers were on fire in the first half, outscoring Tennessee Tech 46-31. The roaring crowd had the energy of a Final Four game and it was clear anticipation of Penny Hardaway as the savior of the program was surreal for the fans. It was an excitement that has not been in this city since Derrick Rose was here.
The second half was a different story. Both teams scored thirty points and the Tigers struggled to get any rhythm on offense.
Despite the thrilling victory in the opening game, nothing is ever perfect. There are a few tweaks to be made for this rejuvenated team going forward.
For starters, the team struggled to shoot from the perimeter. They shot a pedestrian 6-24 and to use harsh but accurate terms, some of the shots were bricks. The Tigers will need to step it up from long range when they face tougher competition. The Golden Eagles also shot twenty-nine free throws while the Tigers shot just eleven. It is good to see aggression on the defensive end but foul shots will keep a lot of good teams in the game and can be the difference in some.
The second concern was the play of the freshmen. As noted earlier, seniors Davenport and Martin carried the load for this game. In twenty-eight minutes of action, starting guard Tyler Harris went 0-6 from the field – all from the perimeter. Maybe he was feeling the jitters in his first regular season game as a Tiger. Alex Lomax went 3-9 for eight points, five rebounds, and four assists. Antwaan Jones and David Wingett combined for five points off the bench. Hopefully this game is not a sign of things to come as the freshmen Tigers have too much talent to struggle like that again.
Coach Penny was asked about the struggles of the freshmen players.
“When you’re playing freshmen you got to keep them calm and not get them over-excited,” said Hardaway. “So I’m gonna always stay even-keeled.”
The third area of concern was another category in the stat sheet; rebounds. Memphis was out-rebounded 41-34. The Tigers played small for a lot of the game which is important to keep in mind but extra possessions are a valuable commodity in basketball.
To have many flaws in a victory decided by fifteen points is like saying your Corvette needs a quick oil change and has a busted tail light.
Coach Penny responded to a question about his first victory as Tigers head coach.
“It feels good because Tennessee Tech really made us work. We struggled scoring,” said Hardaway. “There were things that we worked on in shootaround and in practice with the gameplan that we’re not doing. But I’m definitely thankful for the win.”
The Tigers will travel to Baton Rouge to take on LSU on November 13th. They will be back at the Forum on November 17th when they host Yale.
Feature Image: [Mark Weber/Commercial Appeal]