By Jimmy Hyams
Memphis exposed some of Tennessee’s shortcomings Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena, fighting off a 12-point first-half deficit to snap the Vols 31-game home court win streak with a 51-47 slug-it-out victory.
Horrific shooting by Tennessee – especially from two senior guards — proved to be the undoing. Lamonte Turner (1 for 11) and Jordan Bowden (2 for 10) were a combined 3 for 21, and 1 for 11 from 3-point range.
And when they failed to get hot, Tennessee didn’t have enough answers from the supporting cast.
End result: Tennessee shot a frigid 22.2 percent from the field (15 of 60) and 4 of 26 from 3-point range Vols not named Josiah-Jordan James were a combined 1 for 20.
Tennessee (7-2) did get a brief offensive sparks from Drew Pember and Yves Pons and John Fulkerson. But it wasn’t enough against a younger, talented Memphis team that was minus two key starters and played with more poise down the stretch than UT.
“It means a lot,’’ said Hardaway, whose team was ranked higher than Tennessee but a 7-point underdog at tipoff. “We weren’t picked to win. To get a win against a team like this on their court is big for this team, big for the city of Memphis.’’
Hardaway’s focus was on containing Turner and Bowden, who combined to average 27.7 points.
“We wanted to make them uncomfortable and make the ball find someone else,’’ Hardaway said.
The strategy worked, but it wasn’t all Memphis defense. Turner missed several open looks, as did Bowden. It was an uncharacteristic game for two shooters who have made big shots in big games in the past.
“I don’t think they’ll ever shoot like this the rest of their career,’’ Hardaway said.
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes was at a loss to explain his team’s inept shooting. He noted that his three best shooters were a combined 6 for 30.
“On the offensive end it’s tough,’’ Barnes said, “because when you’re open, it’s tough not to take open shots. We also have to figure out the flow of the game.’’
The game never had a flow. It was impacted by solid defense, poor shooting and, at times, sloppy play. Memphis had 17 turnovers to five assists while UT had 11 assists to nine turnovers.
Asked how he can get more consistent production from Turner and Bowden, Barnes said: “I don’t know the answer to that. I trust them. They’ve moved into new roles and they’ve got to figure it out.’’
Tennessee jumped out to a 17-5 lead 11 minutes into the game. But Memphis stormed back to take the lead at the break 25-24 on Tyler Harris’ coast-to-coast layup. That had to be a bit deflating to a UT team that had lead throughout the half.
The game was tight throughout the second half, but in the end, Memphis made the key plays – and shots — and UT didn’t.
With Memphis up 49-47, Pons went to the foul line for a one-and-one that could have tied the game with 20 seconds left. He missed the first shot.
Memphis rebounded, and Alex Lomax was fouled with 7.9 seconds left. He made both ends of a one-and-one. Game. Set. Match.
James led UT with 14 points – he had 11 in the first 11 minutes but scored just three after missing a dunk.
Fulkerson had a work-man-like nine points, seven rebounds, three assists, three blocks, two steals and one huge compliment from Hardaway.
“What can you say about John Fulkerson?’’ Hardaway said. “He might be the hardest working man in the country.’’
After the fireworks that evolved from last year’s Tennessee win at Memphis, Hardaway, who took several verbal shots at Barnes last December, was escorted by police onto the court under a chorus of boos.
Did Hardaway ask for a police escort?
“No sir,’’ he said, “but I appreciated it.’’
Hardaway said his post-game comments last year were “misunderstood’’ and “not a good look’’ and “that’ll never happen again.’’
He added: “I take credit for my part.’’
For his part, Hardaway said he would like to see the UT-Memphis series continue beyond next year’s game in Nashville: “I’d love to keep it going.’’
Barnes was less committal: “`I’m not saying we will or we won’t.’’
As a proud Hardaway left his press conference, he said: “Go Tigers.’’
Who does he think he is: Ed Orgeron?