The race for fourth place in the American Athletic Conference took an important turn when the Tigers beat back the Temple Owls 81-73 in front of 14,652 at FedExForum Tuesday night.
The Tigers have been playing their most consistent basketball all season over the last seven games. Tuesday’s much-needed win came against the backdrop of a 20-point loss to the Owls in their first meeting this season 85-76 after being down by as 20 points.
Jeremiah Martin came into the game as the reining Player of the Week for the American Athletic Conference, CBS Sports’ National Player of the Week and as the Lute Olson Player of the Week. Martin scored a career-high 43 points against the Tulane Green Wave.
Against the Owls, Martin was very efficient in his scoring production, making 11 out of 16 shots, with five assists. Antwann Jones was effective off the bench playing 19 minutes, connecting on two three-pointers, scoring 10 points and grabbing four rebounds.
Martin played 38 minutes and did not score his first points of the game until the 13:27 mark in the first half. He then went on a 10-0 scoring run over the next two minutes. The second half was a mirror of the first. Martin scored his first basket with 12:39 left in the game before tallying 15 points.
On the pressure to continue his stellar pace Martin said, “Everything is business. Coach said that the leash is going to get shorter. Every game is a playoff game. There is not much room for error for anyone. I love it. It’s that time of the year that if you lose your season is over. We are just trying to play hard like it is a playoff game.”
The appreciation of the effort by Martin hasn’t gone unrecognized by the fans. The cheers have been louder when he is introduced to start the game. The same when he leaves the game for the final time. He has become the daily subject of local sports talk radio. Martin just has been taking it in stride.
“It is shocking everyone on the team and they have not figured out how to get their rhythm going when he is in his rhythm,” head coach Penny Hardaway said of Martin’s performances. “Once we get that figured out we are going to be a dangerous team. We have turned the attention from anybody shooting the ball at any time to get the ball to Jeremiah and playing through Jeremiah. We are going through Jeremiah, because he has been so successful.”
Hardaway’s recent talkshow assessment of senior Kyvon Davenport has been a topic of considerable conversation. Hardaway remarked that Davenport is a free spirit and that early in the season he only wanted to play when he wanted to play.
Lately Davenport has tuned up is level of play. He had 12 points and grabbed 4 rebounds before fouling out against the Owls. Asked if he loved the game of basketball, Davenport said, “If I did not love the game I would not be here.”
During his post-game news conference, Hardaway was asked about his bluntness when talking about his players.
“I am like that every day. I am not here to please everyone. I hate that it got out like I was on Kyvon, but if everyone remembers when Kyvon was on in December and January I said that Kyvon was unstoppable.”.
Continuing, Hardaway said, “You are going to get those articles written. So it don’t matter to me when people say I was too blunt today. I just keep it keep. That is what I do with my team. The way it came out was the way it was with me with Kyvon this year. Kyvon understands that I love him. I am not out to embarrass any kid. I talked to the team about it today and they understood.
“I am always going to be 100 percent real with my kids,” Hardaway said. “When they are doing well I am going to praise them and when they are not I am going to let them know. If I am not coaching well I am going to say the same thing. Unfortunately we live in a world when you can’t be real all the time.”
The Tigers had nine players and each scored.
Hardaway said the win over the owls would “help us a lot going forward. We started a couple of weeks ago with the mindset of taking each game one at a time and buying into the game plan; shutting down the other team’s best player. We did a good job on Shizz Alston and Quinton Rose. This win continues to build our confidence.”
Hardaway moved to boost Jones’ confidence before putting him in the game. He gave Jones some last minute encouragement, telling him that he had his back. Jones responded by hitting a corner three pointer.
Asked what he said to Jones, Hardaway said he told him, “’Go out there and don’t worry about making mistakes. Be aggressive and if you see a good shot, take it.’ He was a big part of us winning today.”
The Tigers play a vital road game at Cincinnati on Saturday (March 2) at 7 p.m. The game can be seen on ESPNU.
With only two games left in the regular season, the Tigers are only one game out of the fourth seed. Making it into the fourth seed would assure that the Tigers would have to play one less game to win the conference tournament, with the first two games played in the evening session rather than at 1 p.m.