Tennessee and Memphis hadn’t played each other in basketball in half a decade before the two squared off on Saturday. But one thing was for certain: That time off didn’t lessen the animosity between the two programs.
The No. 3 Vols (8-1) triumphed 102-92 over the Tigers (5-5) in front of a sold out FedExForum in Memphis on Saturday, notching Tennessee’s 15th win in 26 meetings against Memphis. Near the end of the game, things got a little chippy on the court as both teams started jawing off at each other, and Memphis was assessed a technical foul during the altercation.
Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway said after the game that Tennessee point guard Jordan Bone said something to Memphis freshman guard Alex Lomax that got everything started. Hardaway said he argued with the refs that Tennessee’s players came over to his bench first and started the altercation, but his team was the one penalized for the situation.
Before, during, and after the game, Tennessee senior forward Admiral Schofield was heckled by Memphis fans. Schofield scored a team-high 29 points in the win, and after the game was over, he ran around the court holding up his jersey with the “Tennessee” print to show off to the crowd.
All of these moments are exactly what make a great rivalry. But there’s another moment that happened after the game that few people are talking about that also adds fuel to the hate in this bitter in-state series.
Senior forward Kyvon Davenport turned in a memorable performance for the Tigers despite the loss. At one point, Davenport had scored 18 straight points for Memphis and was red hot from the floor. He ended up scoring a game-high 31 points and added 11 rebounds, two assists, and two blocks.
After the game, he was asked about the Tigers’ performance against Tennessee and LSU, two ranked teams that Memphis was able to hang close with throughout the game but could never quite close the gap or finish the deal. And Davenport had some strong words.
“Close is never good enough,” Davenport said of the Tigers’ losses to LSU and Tennessee after the game. “I feel like we’re better than these teams, and I feel like we just gotta execute more, and we just gotta keep working. We got the same kind of team they got, even better. And I feel like we got better players, too.
“We just all gotta keep working together, keep playing together, and we’ll end up even blowing out teams like that.”
The Vols never trailed after the opening minute of the game on Saturday, and their biggest lead stretched to an 18-point advantage at one point in the first half. The Tigers trimmed UT’s lead to single digits multiple times, but they never got closer than a couple possessions once Tennessee took a double digit lead early in the first half. Against LSU, Memphis kept it a one-score game for most of the first half and even took the lead briefly in the second half. But LSU would finally begin to pull away with about 10 minutes left in the game, and they beat Memphis 85-76.
Tennessee and Memphis hadn’t played since 2013 until Saturday’s contest, and they’ll meet again in Knoxville next season and play a neutral site game in Nashville the following season. Saturday’s game showed exactly why this rivalry needs to be played more frequently.
Between the emotions from the players, the raucous crowd, and the trash talking before, during, and after the game, the Tennessee-Memphis series should never go on a hiatus again.