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Memphis basketball: Penny Hardaway beats Tennessee Tech for first win

It was enough to give anyone goosebumps. 

When the new introduction video wrapped up inside of FedExForum Tuesday night ahead of Memphis’ 76-61 win over Tennessee Tech, the student section to the left of the Tigers’ bench knew the moment was right. 

“Pen-ny! Pen-ny! Pen-ny!” the group began chanting at 7:01 p.m., just one minute after the game’s scheduled start time.  

The video — which featured Hardaway and his players in black suits passing a basketball around to a beat created by the squeak of sneakers and the sound of dribbling — livened the mood. 

“That was the team’s first time seeing that intro video,” Hardaway said. “We saved it for tonight, and it definitely had an impact on the team and the crowd.”

College basketball was back. Hardaway was back. The crowd inside FedExForum knew this one was for real.

Seniors’ spectacular start

But in the midst of so much new — eight first-year Memphis players and an overhauled coaching staff — it was the Tigers’ returning players who made their mark early.

The team’s veterans scored 22 of its first 24 points. 

Kyvon Davenport (30 points), Jeremiah Martin (18 points) and Kareem Brewton were a combined 14-of-21 from the floor at halftime. The rest of the Tigers were 4-of-19.

“It was the first game for a lot of guys out there,” Martin said. “We have a lot of freshmen, and now they can see the importance of how everything counts now. And for the upperclassmen, we have to lead more and be there for those guys.”

Davenport finished with a career-high 30 points and added 10 rebounds. 

“Maybe not 30 and 10, but we know (Davenport) is a double-double machine, and we’re going to need that from him all year,” Hardaway said.

The Tigers’ two senior starters, Davenport and Martin, scored 63 percent of Memphis’ points. 

Brewton was part of the first round of substitutes by Hardaway early in the first half, and dropped in a 3-point shot from the corner just 11 seconds after checking in. He finished with seven points.

Turning up the pressure 

Brewton was also the player who turned up the pressure on defense. 

The senior finished with a team-high four steals despite playing just 16 minutes. 

Memphis forced Tennessee Tech into 26 turnovers, another strong performance on the defensive end after generating 27 or more turnovers in each of its two exhibition games.

The Golden Eagles’ miscues translated to 27 Tiger points.

Including the two exhibition matchups, Hardaway’s team has combined for 46 steals in its first three games. 

Where can they improve?

The Tigers had just 13 assists on 31 field goals, which is a significant decrease from their tune-up games against Division II opponents LeMoyne-Owen and Christian Brothers. 

Part of that can be attributed to Memphis’ struggles from the outside. Hardaway’s team made just 6 of 24 shots from beyond the arc, and shot 42 percent for the game. 

“All of those (3-point attempts) were wide open,” Hardaway said. “… We got our shooters looks, they just didn’t make them tonight. We are going to get those same looks and make them next time.”

But perhaps Memphis’ area with the biggest room for improvement would be on the glass. 

Tennessee Tech outrebounded the Tigers 42-35, and Davenport was the only player to grab double-digit rebounds. 

“I feel like the guards, we have to get more rebounds because they were pounding the big guys all night,” Martin said. 

With Hardaway utilizing smaller lineups to play up-tempo, the coach hopes rebounding will become a collective effort.

“I went small to try to offset their size with our speed,” Hardaway said. “I asked the guys to rebound and we just didn’t do a good job when we were small of rebounding. … I wanted to try some things tonight. We were afforded to do so even though we got outrebounded, but we’ll be OK moving forward.”

Up next

The Tigers play their first road game of the year at No. 23 LSU next Tuesday. 

GIANNOTTO: Penny Hardaway’s coaching debut felt like Memphis basketball again

 

 

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