The No. 3 Tennessee Volunteers picked up another win on Saturday as they renewed a rivalry against an old foe from West Tennessee.
The Memphis Tigers provided quite a different matchup for the Vols, as the teams combined for 194 points and 60 fouls. Yes, that is correct, SIXTY fouls! Here is what we learned from the strange affair:
Tennessee Can Adapt
The oddity of the officials turning this tilt into a whistling contest had to take a toll on the gameplan for both teams. The referees may have had good intentions, but getting ahead of any aggressive play to the tune of 60 fouls isn’t going to cut it. There wasn’t any shoving or hard fouls to warrant any kind of message from the officiating crew. The mirage of intimidation would come later.
The Vols being able to operate under these conditions while controlling the game and their emotions speaks volumes to their adaptability. They have seen many different styles of play thus far and Memphis provided the most foreign counter-play. The Tigers really don’t do anything well except create turnovers and first half points. They are fifth in the nation in opponent turnovers per game (18.2) and 18th in first half points (40.6).
Memphis lacks continuity on offense but they remain aggressive on both ends. That was on display as Tennessee fought off streaky runs and managed a game with interrupted pace. The runs of the Tigers kept them in the game. Senior Kyvon Davenport exploded in the second half by scoring 26. He finished with 31 points and 11 rebounds.
Admiral Schofield “Ready” At All Times
After coming off his best performance of his career and with the Vols getting what they want offensively, the senior let the game come to him and contributed by hitting timely shots. When Davenport instigated a late Tigers push, Schofield took control once again. He scored 20 points in the second half and ended with 29 total to go along with 11 rebounds.
In the past two games, Schofield has answered the bell in the late stages of the game. With Gonzaga, it was a call to rescue a team whose other leader had exited the game. The battle in Memphis needed punctuation. The Vols needed someone to extinguish the gnats that continued to swarm after the feast was over. Needless to say, “Jelly” did not disappoint.
That’s what makes this team so special: not one player looks for personal accolades. They just want to win. Everyone seems willing to play their role. According to Schofield, his is to be “ready.”
No Love Lost, No Love Found
These two teams hadn’t squared off since January 2013. The rivalry was a first for the players. The five-year absence didn’t evoke apathy, though. If anything, the hiatus built progressive tension that was exposed Saturday afternoon.
Rosters on both sides consisted of in-state players who are all too familiar with the rivalry. Jordan Bone grew up in Nashville. His brother, Josh, played for the Vols when the rivalry was at its peak. The elder helped contribute to one of the biggest wins in Tennessee history as the Vols upset the undefeated Tigers in 2008 to obtain Tennessee’s first-ever No. 1 ranking.
Tigers coach Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway played in this rivalry himself. His son, Jayden, is on the roster along with five other Memphis natives. Both sides knew what was at stake.
It didn’t take long for players to exchange pleasantries and display swagger. The crowd was engaged early. It was the first sellout at FedExForum for a Memphis basketball game since 2009.
All these components set the stage for a game in which one emotionally composed team dominated, while another revealed immature and sour tendencies.
With the outcome all but settled, words were exchanged in the waning moments during stoppage of play. Double technicals were issued: one to Tennessee (Bone) and two to Memphis (Alex Lomax and Jeremiah Martin). There was no physical contact exchanged between any players. In fact, the only physical contact made between opposition was Hardaway placing his hand on Bone’s back and mildly shoving him along, away from the Memphis players.
According to Hardaway, “Tennessee’s entire team ran over to fight.” The first-year coach also stated that “you could visibly see guys with their fists balled and talking trash to our guys.”
Penny Is Not Ready, Yet
Apparently, Hardaway was the only one who saw the episode go down this way, despite a live crowd of over 18,000 and thousands of network viewers. Maybe the best explanation for this blurred vision is sour grapes. Is it that Penny has never beaten Tennessee as a coach or player and is unwilling to accept the fact that the perceived inferiority by Memphis fans doesn’t actually exist?
Or is it just that hard to accept that Tennessee has elite talent? The Vols’ skill-set excels with a balanced and cognitive approach to the game of basketball: a unit that is no match for an inconsistent offense that best resembles the likes of AAU travel ball.
The bad news for Penny is that whining to get your way doesn’t instantly travel from AAU to the NCAA. Perhaps the best example for humility stood across from him on the court. Rick Barnes is a model of consistency. He has been a head coach in the NCAA for almost 32 years. In addition to Final Four appearances, Barnes has led teams to multiple Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eights, all without a trace of trouble or scandal. The humble nature of the Hickory, N.C. native is reflected in his players. Immediately after the game, Bone took ownership of his verbal actions that resulted in his technical foul.
'We were supposed to walk out of here with class. I allowed that to get to me.''
Jordan Bone wasn't happy with his part in the late-game verbal spat Saturday at Memphis. https://t.co/QcS20QwqhD
— Mike Wilson (@ByMikeWilson) December 16, 2018
As great as it is to have the rivalry back, it is sad to see such an embarrassing act come from the face of a program. A learning curve is clearly taking place with Penny. How fast can he catch up to the competition?
The Vols and Tigers are set to square off each of the next two years. Next year’s bout is in Knoxville. The following match will be in Nashville. There will be ample time over the next few years for Hardaway to adjust to the nuance of coaching Division I basketball. That is if the big stage isn’t too overwhelming. Based on Episode 1 of the Renewed Rivalry, it just might be too large.