PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — Memphis basketball, with coach Penny Hardaway back from suspension, held on to beat Michigan 71-67 Wednesday at the Battle 4 Atlantis.
The Tigers (4-0) will face No. 20 Arkansas on Thursday (4 p.m., ESPN), in the renewal of what was once a real rivalry. The programs have not met in more than 20 years, and the Razorbacks hold a slight edge 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) stormed back, cutting it to a two-point deficit with 9.1 seconds to play. David Jones scored the last nine points for Memphis, including six free throws in the final 67 seconds, and two with less than 5 seconds left.
Ashton Hardaway saw his first significant playing time of the season, and he made it pay off. The freshman led all Tigers with 17 points, boosted by five 3-pointers on seven attempts.
The Wolverines dominated the rebounding battle 50-28. But they committed close to twice as many turnovers (18 to 11) as the Tigers, who turned Michigan’s mistakes into 21 points. Michigan head coach Juwan Howard was on the bench for the first time this season as he recovers from September heart surgery, but assistant Phil Martelli handled head coaching duties.
Here are five takeaways from Wednesday’s game.
A whole lot of Hardaway
Penny Hardaway wasn’t the only Hardaway with a lot of eyes on him Wednesday.
His sons, Ashton and Jayden, stepped up in a big way. Ashton gave the Tigers a scoring jolt when he had eight straight points in a 71-second span. The second of his two 3-pointers during that stretch gave them an 18-14 lead.
Then it was Jayden’s turn. The super senior knocked down back-to-back field goals with less than four minutes to play in the first half (a 2-pointer and a 3). It was part of a 13-2 Memphis run that helped push the lead to 37-23.
In the second half, Ashton connected on another triple to halt a 12-2 Michigan run.
Tough game for some starters
The Tigers’ usual scoring punch was largely ineffective.
Jones (despite stepping up late), Jaykwon 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 put up a season-best eight assists, managed nine points on 3-of-8 shooting.
A new intensity
Hardaway, now in Year 6 as the Tigers’ coach, has established a defensive brand. One that is relentless. One that smothers opponents from beginning to end.
But through the first three games this season, the Tigers didn’t exactly employ the same sort of intensity that some have grown accustomed to seeing from them.
That changed Wednesday.
The Tigers hounded the Wolverines’ backcourt duo of Dug McDaniel and Nimari Burnett. They put pressure on the front court with a full game’s worth of physicality and toughness.
Michigan finished shooting 39.3% from the field and 33.3% beyond the arc.
Memphis bigs steady the ship
The Tigers had to scrap at least a portion of the game plan very early. That’s because Brown, the starting center, found himself in some hot water with the officiating crew.
The former Louisiana star and last season’s Sun Belt Player of the Year picked up two fouls and was yanked off the floor before the game was even three minutes old. He did not get back on the floor until the second half.
So Memphis went with a steady diet of Malcolm Dandridge and Nick Jourdain. Dandridge responded with two points, two rebounds, two steals and two turnovers in the first half, while Jourdain had three points, one rebound and one block.
Caleb Mills gets the internet going
Mills’ stepback jumper late in the first half might have seemed innocent enough on the surface.
But it was so much more than that because of what preceded it.
Late in the first half, Mills sized up his defender, Olivier Nkamhoua. Then he went into attack mode. Mills’ crossover move around the 3-point line forced Nkamhoua to begin backpedaling. Only thing is, Mills stopped in his tracks. Nkamhoua could not. Instead, his momentum sent him sliding on his backside down the right side of the lane.
The Memphis fans at the Imperial Arena roared. 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 just ruined that man’s whole 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.
Reach sports writer Jason Munz at email@example.com or on Twitter @munzly.