“We are not good enough to take any team for granted” is what Penny Hardaway said before the Tigers played the Tulane Green Wave at FedExForum. The Tigers did not take the Green Wave for granted and won 102-76 before a crowd of 14,747.
For the second time this season, the team wore the throwback Memphis State jerseys – and they played like the Tiger teams that made a run to the NCAA tournament when Hardaway was a player.
The Tigers came out with a sense of purpose to start the game and quickly jumped on the Green Wave. The Tigers led by as many as 18 points (47-29) with 2:05 left in the first half. Jeremiah Martin went on a personal 9-2 run to lead the Tigers. Tulane went on a 9-0 run to cut into the Tigers’ lead to end the half and were only down by nine at the half (47-38).
Unlike the first game of the season when the Tigers had an 18-point halftime lead at Tulane, the Tigers did not allow the Green Wave to get back into the game. The Tigers did not take their foot off the game and controlled the second half. Martin had 17 points to end the first half.
The Tigers pushed their lead to as many as 31 points (94-63). The only questions left were would the Tigers get to 100 points and would Martin score 40 points. Penny Hardaway was not going to take Martin out of the game until he reached the 40-point mark.
Hardaway said he had a conversation with Martin after the Tennessee State game, where they reached a mutual understanding that the team’s success would fall squarely on the shoulders of Martin. Martin has answered the call and the team has been more consistent since then.
Martin has said several times that he feels that he is the best player in the American Athletic Conference, and he plays for the best coach in the conference. The other players on the team have stopped forcing shots and the flow of the offense for the team has improved.
One of the best players in conference Jeremiah Martin let the rest of the teams in the American see that he will be hard to deal with for the rest of the season.
“It is major to have someone that can put the ball in the basket like he can,” Hardaway said. “That takes a lot of your stress away, knowing you have a guy that scores like that at any given time. I need him one more year.”
This was the first 100-point game in regulation since the November 26, 2016 and Martin is the first player in Tigers’ history to score 40 points twice in a career. The 43 points against Tulane is a career high for Martin. Martin scored 41 points all in the second half in a loss earlier this season at South Florida. This was the most points the Green Wave allowed since a 93-61 loss to Cincinnati.
“My coach stayed on me the whole game saying just get 40 and keep playing hard,” Martin said after the game. “My teammates wanted me to get it more and I did. They kept cheering me on and I said I was tired. Tyler (Harris) told me to keep going. Then when I got 41 Tyler said you got to get 43. It is a tribute to the team. We have been having an up and down season, but overall we have great guys on our team.”
Hardaway admitted that he did not know coming into the season that Martin could explode offensively like he showed Wednesday night. The sense of urgency Hardaway has been looking for from his team was aided when assistant coach Tony Madlock began posting conference standings in the players lockers so they can see exactly where they stood.
The Tigers (16-12, 8-6) entered the game trying to secure a win and get a little help from fellow conference rivals to attempt to move into fourth place in the American Athletic Conference. The Tigers entered the game in a tie for sixth place with the University of South Florida. The Tigers have four regular season games left with two road games and two home game remaining for the conference tournament start in Memphis March 14-17.
The goal to start the season for the Tigers has always been “Tournament or Bust”. The team realizes that if they win rest of the games at the FedExForum that goal can be achieved.
“My goal for this team is to build and be sharp by the time we reach the AAC tournament. We want to get up to the fourth spot for sure and get a bye,” Hardaway said. “We understand the situation at hand and the opportunity to do something special here. These last few games we have got to be on our stuff. We have just got to get this rotation down where everyone is playing on a high level.”
The dominant performance of the rest of the team was overshadowed by Martin. The Tigers outrebounded the Green Wave 56-35. The Tigers forced 17 turnovers and 13 steals. Kyvon Davenport led the Tigers with 15 rebounds.
The Tigers had balanced scoring with four other players in double figures. Freshman Tyler Harris had 16 points, Raynere Thornton had 14 points, Kareem Brewton had 13 points, and Davenport had 10 points. Martin was not only the team’s leading scorer he had eight assists and five steals.
Next up for the Tigers will be a quick turnaround and travel to Wichita to play the Shockers. The Tigers defeated Wichita State 85-74 on January 3 at the FedExForum. The Tigers improve to 13-2 at the FedExForum this season. The game can be seen Saturday, Feb. 23 on ESPN2 at 7 p.m.