No. 13 Memphis Beats No. 19 Tennessee, Ends Vols' 31-Game Home Win Streak

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistDecember 14, 2019

Memphis' guard Tyler Harris (1) looks to pass in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Bradley Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Karen Pulfer Focht)
Karen Pulfer Focht/Associated Press

The No. 13 Memphis Tigers defeated the No. 19 Tennessee Volunteers 51-47 on Saturday in a nonconference rivalry game at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee, ending the Vols' 31-game home winning streak.  

Memphis improved to 9-1, which is no small feat as it awaits the return of superstar freshman James Wiseman from NCAA suspension. Tennessee dropped to 7-2 overall, and it suffered its first home loss of the season.

Although both teams boast big-time talent, Saturday's game was a sloppy affair that saw Memphis shoot 33.9 percent from the field and Tennessee just 25.0 percent from the floor and 15.4 percent (4-of-26) from long range.

The Tigers and Vols have plenty of room for improvement, but with Wiseman set to return for Memphis soon and Tennessee boasting an experience-laden roster, an NCAA tournament berth is a strong possibility for both.


Notable Stats

Tyler Harris, G, MEM: 4-of-10 FG, 11 PTS, 5 REB

D.J. Jeffries, F, MEM: 5-of-11 FG, 11 PTS, 4 REB

Precious Achiuwa, F, MEM: 3-of-9 FG, 8 PTS, 13 REB, 2 BLK

Damion Baugh, G, MEM: 4-of-6 FG, 10 PTS, 6 REB

Josiah-Jordan James, G, TEN: 4-of-11 FG, 14 PTS, 5 REB, 3 STL

John Fulkerson, F, TEN: 3-of-8 FG, 9 PTS, 7 REB, 3 AST, 3 BLK

Lamonte Turner, G, TEN: 1-of-11 FG, 5 PTS, 5 REB, 3 AST

Jordan Bowden, G, TEN: 2-of-10 FG, 5 PTS


Memphis Shows Toughness, Mettle in Win Without Top Player

It was widely assumed that Memphis would have a difficult time living up to its preseason billing as one of the top teams in college basketball during Wiseman's absence, but the Tigers scored their most impressive victory yet Saturday.

Memphis' level of competition was relatively low entering Saturday, aside from its loss to Oregon, but Tennessee pushed the Tigers to their limit and forced them to tap into a more defensive style.

Many of Memphis' wins this season have seen it score 80 or more points; however, teams need to be multidimensional in order to thrive, and the Tigers showed Saturday that they can win a defensive slugfest as well.

Both teams were slow out of the gate, as Memphis shot just over 30 percent in the first half, while Tennessee shot just 20 percent. Dan Wolken of USA Today noted there were some missed opportunities on both sides:

Dan Wolken @DanWolken

Memphis-Tennessee also quite the ugly watch early. Lots of missed bunnies. https://t.co/m0YMt93ahy

Christopher Gabriel of 940 ESPN Fresno also pointed out how Memphis and Tennessee were out of sorts on the offensive end:

Christopher Gabriel @CGProgram

Memphis-Tennessee was an awful half of basketball. Neither team shot the ball well, both teams too many turnovers. Maybe they can’t see. Compared to a number of other arenas, the Thompson-Boling court always looks a little dim. 👀 https://t.co/LuM9mbKYMD

Even so, ESPN's Myron Medcalf was impressed by how engaged and rowdy the crowd was at Thompson-Boling Arena:

Myron Medcalf @MedcalfByESPN

Great crowd in Knoxville for Memphis-Tennessee. No James Wiseman. Obviously reduces the buzz. But this atmosphere is crazy. Hope we see a good game.

Memphis held a 25-24 lead at halftime, and things remained competitive during the second half, as both teams played tight defense and essentially every shot was contested.

That style of play may not be for everyone, but Jared Stillman of ESPN Nashville 102.5 was among those who enjoyed the sense of urgency on every possession throughout the game:

Jared Stillman @JaredStillman

This Memphis-Tennessee game has been ugly and yet feels like a great battle. John Fulkerson dominating at times in this game.

Despite the fact that every Volunteers player besides Josiah-Jordan James and John Fulkerson struggled mightily on the offensive end, they managed to take a 47-46 lead on a Lamonte Turner layup with two minutes, 17 seconds remaining.

Given how poorly Turner shot the ball Saturday, winning on that make would've been a feel-good story for Tennessee, but Memphis guard Damion Baugh would not be denied, as he knocked down a clutch three with 1:48 left to make it 49-47 in favor of the Tigers.

Tennessee had opportunities to tie or take the lead, but Alex Lomax put it away for Memphis in the closing seconds with a pair of huge free-throw makes.


What's Next?

Tennessee has another tough game on tap Wednesday, as it will travel to take on a Cincinnati Bearcats team that is 4-0 at home this season.

Meanwhile, the Tigers will be heavy favorites when they host 1-8 Jackson State next Saturday in Memphis.