Tyler Harris and Alex Lomax came off the bench to combine for 19 points, 12 boards and three assists, providing a major spark as No. 13 Memphis overcame a dreadful start to land a come-from-behind, 51-47 win over No. 19 Tennessee.
Memphis scored five points in the first 11 minutes. They were down by as many as 12 points in the first half after missing 13 of their first 14 shots. To be quite frank, they opened this game playing like a team that was starting five freshmen in a rivalry game.
Tennessee finished the afternoon shooting just 25 percent from the floor and 4-for-26 (16 percent) from three. They scored just 0.723 points-per-possession, the worst performance since an 82-55 drubbing Tennessee took at South Carolina in February of 2017.
Here are the three things we can take away from this game:
1. THIS WAS VERY, VERY IMPRESSIVE FROM MEMPHIS
I don’t think that I can say that enough.
There was so much that did not go the Tigers’ way in this game, and so many built in excuses for the loss.
It was played in Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, the first time a Memphis team starting four freshmen was playing a true road game against a top 25 team. It was the first time those freshmen were playing in a rivalry game, and they spent the first 12 minutes or so looking like a team that was overwhelmed by the moment.
And they were doing it while their best player and the potential No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft missed his seventh game due to a suspension. Should I mention that their best shooter, Lester Quinones, was also out as he continues to recover from a broken hand?
Oh, and the game was played at Tennessee’s pace. The Tigers want games to be frenetic. They want to be able to get out and run in transition. They want to force turnovers, get more possessions and have a chance to let their athletes avoid having to attack set defenses by playing on the break. None of that happened. This game had 65 possessions, which will go down as the fewest possessions in a game for this team this season.
And they still won.
I can fully admit that I did not think that Memphis had a win like this in them.
2. ALEX LOMAX AND TYLER HARRIS WERE THE DIFFERENCE-MAKERS
The Memphis freshmen are the guys that get all the hype and attention, but the two guys that changed this game on Saturday were Harris and Lomax. Harris provided the offensive spark in the first half, hitting a pair of threes and scoring eight of his 11 points in the final nine minutes to wake up a team that looked like they were still working their way through the itis.
Lomax was involved, too. He forced a couple of first half turnovers and he settled the team in the second half, making a couple plays in the halfcourt when it looked like Tennessee was on the verge of getting a critical stop.
Credit does have to be given elsewhere. Precious Achiuewa had 13 rebounds and two blocks and played with four fouls for the final five minutes of the game. D.J. Jeffries had a couple important drives down the stretch, including one where he found Damian Baugh for a three to give Memphis the lead back. Boogie Ellis was trapped in the corner in the backcourt with the Tigers up by two, less than 15 seconds on the clock and no timeouts left and found a way to get the ball out without committing a turnover.
This was very much a team effort, and an impressive one at that, but the catalysts were the two little guards that were relegated to Penny’s bench when he brought in a vaunted recruiting class.
3. TENNESSEE HAD SOME SERIOUS ISSUES ON THE OFFENSIVE END
The Vols shot 25 percent from the floor on Saturday. They were 4-for-26 from three. Josiah-Jordan James got off to a hot start to the game, but beyond that, their best offense ended up being post touches for Yves Pons and John Fulkerson.
The question that needs to be asked is whether this is just an off-night or if this is a sign of a larger issue for a program that is still working through how to replace Grant Williams, Jordan Bone and Admiral Schofield.
Lamonte Turner was 1-for-11 from the floor on Saturday and did not make his first shot until there were four minutes left. Jordan Bowden was 2-for-10 from the floor. That is not normal, and they missed a number of good, open looks. They are Rick Barnes’ two-leading scorers, so I tend to think that this is the kind of thing where you just chalk it up as one of those nights shots didn’t go down.
The larger concern might be that the last time Tennessee played a tough, athletic and defensive-minded team, Turner and Bowden combined to shooting 7-for-24 from the floor and 3-for-11 in a loss. If anything, I think the answer is that the Vols need to find a way to score on the nights where two are off.