Memphis, for the third consecutive time – and possibily the last time – beat in-state rival Tennessee 85-80 on Friday night in Knoxville.
Behind the strong play of guard Joe Jackson, who finished with 20 points and seven assists, the Tigers continued to get easy shots against a good defensive team, as they connected on 64 percent of their field goals in the first half, opening up a 42-28 lead heading into the break.
While Memphis did whatever they wanted on offense, the Volunteers struggled on their end of the floor, shooting below 30 percent after 16 minutes. Jordan McRae carried the load for the Vols going for 26 points, of 10-of-21 shooting. The Tigers could of blown the game out in the second, but Tennessee chipped away and got it to single digits with under eight to go.
However, the first half offensive woes were too much for the Volunteers to overcome 8-4. Memphis (10-3) got a much needed non-conference win after losses to VCU, Minnesota, and Louisville earlier in the year. This game is the last year of its contract and it is unsure whether this rivalry will resume.
For the last week, the Memphis-Tennessee rivalry mirrored the relationship of Ross and Rachel or Jim and Pam, following the old television sitcom idiom: “will they/won’t they.”
On Wednesday morning, Memphis coach Josh Pastner said the annual game will come to an end based on the notion Tennessee would be given a stage to recruit Memphis-area players. Later on Wednesday, Memphis and Tennessee athletic directors were discussing ways to continue the game. This is after Pastner said he and Memphis AD, Tom Bowen were in agreement about ending the series.
At halftime of the Memphis-Tennessee game, Bowen took responsibility for the miscommunication between he and Pastner.
“It’s my fault,” Bowen told the Commercial-Appeal. “I should have told him earlier.”
Back in November, Bowen did tell Pastner the series would end. Because of the downfall of the Big East, which Memphis is joining, Bowen realized there would be room to continue the series after Boise State backed away from joining the Big East earlier this week.
That is where the confusion came into play, according to the Commercial-Appeal.
“What are we going to do with those uncoupled games?” Bowen told Geoff Calkins at halftime. “Everything is so fluid, Things are changing every day. We’re in a transition. But I’m going to do better with communicating.”