After letting a second half lead slip away in their previous contest against Cincinnati, the Memphis Tigers were back in action on their home floor Sunday against UConn. With the conference tournament only a month away, both teams are eager for a chance to improve their 13-10 records.
Losing streak finally broken
Losers of three straight games, Memphis came into this game hungry to correct course from the last week and a half. While they were never able to pull away fully, the Tigers maintained their lead for much of the game.
Despite allowing the Huskies to get back into the game in the closing minutes, an all-around team effort was enough for the Tigers to secure a 78-71 victory. Although it was not in the prettiest fashion, head coach Penny Hardaway said he was pleased his group was just able to get back into the win column.
“I’m happy to be off of that losing streak and starting the first of many, hopefully of a winning streak,” Hardaway said. “It’s a good win. We’ll take it how we can get it. We just have to pile up wins from this point forward.”
Davenport comes up huge
In their recent games, Jeremiah Martin was the only consistent offensive force driving the Tigers. After the loss against Cincinnati, Hardaway challenged his players to step up and take some of the scoring burden off the senior’s shoulders.
Against UConn, Kyvon Davenport took his coach’s words to heart as he finished with a game-high 26 points on an efficient 9-for-13 shooting. Although his contributions were pivotal for the success of his team, the senior forward was more focused on just winning the game.
“We knew coming out that we really needed this game to get us going,” Davenport said. “From here on out, we have got to play tough and play better, and we have got to get us a winning streak going because three losses in a row really hurt.”
In one of his best outings of the entire season, Davenport flashed some of the ability that led to Hardaway describing the senior as “unguardable, when he wants to be.”
As the regular season winds down, fans, teammates and coaches alike will be looking for Davenport to tap into that capability a bit more often.
First chapter of many
Similar to the circumstances surrounding the hiring of Hardaway as coach at Memphis, Dan Hurley was brought on at UConn to restore a winning tradition and culture at one of the nation’s most historically prominent programs.
While Hurley may not be seeing the results he would have hoped for in his first season on the bench, it is no secret both he and Hardaway are in the early stages of where they are going to take their respective programs, for better or worse.
With as much attention that Hardaway’s recruiting class for 2019 has received, it is important to note that Hurley has quietly reeled in a top 20 class of his own. Looking down the line, there is plenty of potential for a Tigers-Huskies rivalry hallmarked by physical and competitive play.
“I said to Penny in the handshake that I expect with what we’ve got coming in and what we’re going to build, with what he’s going to build, I don’t expect to come into these matchups with a 13-10 record very often in the future,” Hurley said. “Obviously, both programs are going to spike, in terms of what we look like, the next time we meet on the court.”
The Tigers record now sits at 14-10, while the Huskies fall to 13-11. In the conference standings, it is unlikely either team catches up with the likes of Houston and Cincinnati at the top of board, but these games are crucial for building confidence and rhythm.
After splitting a pair of home games that many will argue they should have won, Memphis now prepares for a road trip. Their next game is a trip to East Carolina on Wednesday before paying UCF a visit in Orlando, Florida, on Saturday.
Tip-off in Greenville, North Carolina, against the Pirates is set for 6 p.m.