Tennessee vs Memphis, Jan. 4, 2013
If somebody bet you Tennessee would score 52 points in a half Friday night, you would have taken it. There have been nights the Vols didn't get to 52 in an entire 40 minutes.
And if the bet was a 52-point half and Tennessee still loses, you'd double down.
Memphis beat all the odds and walked away with the stakes.
It's been a rough couple of days for Tigers coach Josh Pastner, but an 85-80 victory over the Vols at Thompson-Boling Arena brightened up his weekend.
If this is how the UT-Memphis series ends — which is Pastner's emphatically stated desire but apparently not the plan of either school's athletic director — then it's a bitter pill to swallow for the Vols.
The Tigers knocked off UT twice last year and made it three straight by taking Tennessee's trump card — withering defense — and beating it with a grin on their faces.
Memphis shot 64 percent in the first half, finished at 56.4 and hit seven of 11 from 3-point range.
No opponent had scored more than 69 points against UT this year. No opponent had shot better than 50 percent.
Keeping things ugly had saved the offensively challenged Vols more than one night. This is what happens when the other team can stay pretty.
"When we make shots, we look good,'' said a beaming Pastner, "and we made shots.''
The Tigers made shots in the paint and from long range. They led by 42-28 at the half and by 21 points — 62-41 —– with about 13 minutes to play.
To Tennessee's credit, there was no quit. Led by Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson, the Vols picked up the tempo and got as close as 69-64 with plenty of time left.
A crowd of 19,535 finally had a reason to get out of its seats, other than to applaud new football coach Butch Jones in the first half and Eric Berry in the second.
The 52-point second half was a welcome change of pace from Tennessee's recent low-scoring ways but it wasn't enough. There would be no happy ending.
Geron Johnson, the Tigers' junior-college transfer guard, stuck in a pair of cold-blooded 3-pointers to help keep the Vols at arm's length.
Memphis' perimeter trio of Johnson, quicksilver point guard Joe Jackson and superb athlete Adonis Thomas combined for 54 points and 5-of-7 3-point shooting.
"We just got what we wanted,'' said Jackson. "We penetrated and that's what you look for in college basketball, getting in the paint and making plays.''
Memphis succeeded in doing so where other opponents have not.
"I wasn't so upset they made the threes,'' said UT coach Cuonzo Martin. "I was more upset they got in the orange.''
Richardson admitted something was missing. Like the usual grit and toughness.
"We were playing a little bit timid,'' he said. "They capitalized and made us pay.''
It's a steep price. This was Memphis. No telling when the Vols will get a chance at redemption as the series goes into at least temporary limbo.
Until they meet again at some undetermined juncture, the last impression is Memphis shooting the Tennessee lights out.