The Tennessee Volunteer's new orange jerseys failed to have the desired affect Friday night inside a capacity-filled Thompson Boling Arena.
In what may have been the last in-state rivalry game played between Memphis and Tennessee, the Tigers pulled away with a hard fought 85-80 victory.
It was the Tigers' third straight victory over the Vols. The game marked the last one under the current contract between the two programs.
Despite leading by as much as 21 points over the Vols, the Tigers barely pulled through with the win. Memphis guards Joe Jackson, Adonis Thomas and Geron Johnson combined for 54 of the team's 85 point, but Jackson stole the show.
The 6-foot-1 guard scored a team high 20 points (9-11 FT) to go along with seven assists, four rebounds and four steals.
"Memphis did a good job shooting the ball," Vol head coach Cuonzo Martin said. "They did a great job. Penetrating. Bringing the defense down. Finding guys."
From the very start of the game the Vols had their hands full in trying to slow down the speedy and athletic Memphis (10-3) guards.
Thomas scored his first two of his 18 game points for the Tigers when he went around several UT defenders and hit an acrobatic layup while getting fouled on the shot to put Memphis up 8-2 early on.
Despite not leading at any moment in the first half, senior center Kenny Hall was a bright spot for the Vols.
Hall electrified the crowd of 19,535 Vols fans with an emphatic dunk. He finished the half of play with nine points and six of his game high 11 rebounds.
"It was a great atmosphere," Martin said. "I thought they (crowd) did a really good job getting us back in the game when we made some shots, made some plays. They did a tremendous job."
However, the first half was defined by UT's struggles.
The Vols were lackluster on offense, shooting just 27 percent and their usual hard nose defense was nowhere to be found with the Tigers shooting 64 percent.
At halftime the Vols faced a 42-28 halftime deficit that they couldn't overcome despite a resilient second half effort from McRae and Josh Richardson.
With UT trailing 62-41 with 12:55 remaining in the game, McRae jump-started a great comeback for the Vols.
McRae highlighted a 23-7 UT run which brought the Tigers lead to 69-64 with five minutes remaining in the game. Over that stretch the Vols sixth man scored 11 of his game high 26 points to go along with three three-pointers.
McRae hit a season high of five three-pointers, and Richardson scored 18 points in the second half.
"Those guys have the ability to slash and be aggressive," Martin said. "But, it can't be a situation when we get down by 20 that we start getting aggressive. They have to play hard and be consistent, because they both have it in them."
The Vols continued the fight until the end, but with every score came an answer from one of the three Memphis guards.
"We made some big shots, but they came up with big plays," Martin said. "Joe Jackson, (Geron) Johnson and Adonis (Thomas) stepped up when they needed to make big plays and made them."
Jackson sealed the deal for the Tigers sinking all four from the charity stripe in the final 15 seconds of the game.
The loss for the Vols drops their record to 8-4 and it marked their first defeat at home this season in seven games. It was also the first time an opponent had scored over 70 points in a game against them.
UT will now gear up for SEC play, as they will take on Ole Miss at home next Wednesday.
"At this point forward it's a whole new season," Hall said. "This is the second half of the season and SEC play is going to be a lot tougher."
Word on whether or not Jeronne Maymon will return to the court this season will be announced by Martin no later than Monday.