PARADISE ISLAND, BAHAMAS — Memphis basketball, with coach Penny Hardaway returning from suspension, beat Michigan 71-67 on Wednesday in Battle 4 Atlantis.
The Tigers (4-0) will face No. 20 Arkansas on Thursday (4 p.m., ESPN), revamping what was once a true rivalry. The two programs haven’t met in more than 20 years, and the Razorbacks hold a slight advantage in the series, 11-10.
No. 23 in the USA TODAY Sports Coaches Poll, Memphis led by 16 points in the second half but Michigan (3-2) came roaring back and cut the deficit to two points with 9.1 seconds to play. David Jones scored the last nine points for Memphis, including six free throws in the last 67 seconds, and two with less than 5 seconds left in the game.
Ashton Hardaway saw his first significant playing time this season, and he delivered. The freshman led the Tigers with 17 points, supported by five 3-pointers on seven attempts.
The Wolverines dominated the rebounding battle 50-28. But they committed nearly twice as many turnovers (18 to 11) as the Tigers, who turned Michigan mistakes into 21 points. Michigan head coach Juwan Howard was on the bench for the first time this season as he recovers from heart surgery in September, but assistant Phil Martelli has taken over the head coaching duties.
Here are five takeaways from Wednesday’s game.
Great collection of Hardaway
Penny Hardaway wasn’t the only Hardaway with eyes on Wednesday.
His children, Ashton and Jayden, have risen dramatically. Ashton gave the Tigers a scoring jolt when he had eight straight points in a 71-second span. His second of his 3-pointers during that period gave them an 18-14 lead.
Then it was Jayden’s turn. The senior knocked down back-to-back field goals with less than four minutes to play in the first half (two pointers and a 3). He was part of Memphis’ 13-2 run that helped push the lead to 37-23.
In the second half, Ashton connected with another 3-pointer to stop Michigan’s 12-2 run.
Difficult game for some beginners
The Tigers’ usual scoring strike was largely ineffective.
Jones (despite taking a late lead), Ja’Kon Walton and Jordan Brown were limited to a combined 20 points (eight coming from the free throw line) on 5-of-20 shooting.
Point guard Jahvon Quinerly, who had a season-best eight assists, had nine points on 3-of-8 shooting.
Hardaway, now in his sixth year as the Tigers’ coach, has established a defensive brand. An uncompromising one. One that stifles opponents from start to finish.
But through the first three games this season, the Tigers haven’t used the same kind of intensity that some are accustomed to seeing from them.
That changed on Wednesday.
The Tigers went after the Wolverines’ backcourt duo of Dug McDaniel and Nimari Burnett. They pressed the front court with physicality and toughness throughout the match.
Michigan finished shooting 39.3% from the field and 33.3% from beyond the arc.
Memphis Pigs steady the ship
The Tigers had to scrap at least part of the game plan so early. That’s because Brown, the starting center, found himself in some hot water with the coaching staff.
The former Louisiana star and last season’s Sun Belt Player of the Year committed two fouls and was picked off the floor with three minutes remaining in the game. He did not return to the floor until the second half.
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So Memphis went on a steady diet of Malcolm Dandridge and Nick Jordan. Dandridge responded with two points, two rebounds, two steals and two turnovers in the first half, while Jordan had three points, one rebound and one block.
Caleb Mills runs the Internet
Mills’ jumper late in the first half might seem innocent enough on the surface.
But it was so much more than that because of what came before it.
Late in the first half, Mills measured his defender Olivier Nkamhua. Then he went into attack mode. Mills’ crossover move around the three-point line forced Nkamhua to start pulling back. The only thing is that Mills was stopped in his tracks. Nkamhua could not. Instead, his momentum sent him sliding onto his rear end on the right side of the track.
The Memphis fans chanted at Imperial Arena. The play continued and Mills drilled the field goal with 1:53 left in the first half.
The play helped send the Tigers into halftime up 37-25. Mills scored 10 points in the game.
“What Caleb Mills did at 15 is illegal in the United States,” The Field of 68 posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
“Caleb Mills ruined this guy’s entire Thanksgiving!!” Cuffs The Legend, a popular social media personality, posted on X.
“OMG CALEB MILLS MADE HIM TOUCH EARTH,” reads a post on Slam University’s X account.
Contact sportswriter Jason Munz at [email protected] or on Twitter @munzly.
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