The four-year drought for post-season play for the Memphis Tigers came to an end with the arrival of the San Diego Toreros in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament.
The Tigers came to play and did not want their season to end and defeated the Toreros 74-60 in front of 8,138.
With 21 points from Jeremiah Martin and a Tyler Harris “bounce back” game of 16 points, the Tigers took control and never let go.
“It felt great to get back out there and help my team,” Harris said. “I was hard on myself after the loss. The coach put the ball in my hand and felt great to make some shots to help my team win.”
Some teams that get NIT bids play like they don’t want to have any part of the tournament. Others cherish the opportunity to continue playing and don’t want their season to end. The Tigers came out hungry, quickly pulling out to an early 22-8 lead.
“It is rewarding for us to be here,” Hardaway said of his team’s NIT mindset. “A lot of teams are at home now. They (last year’s Tigers team) were at home last year. They won 20-plus games and were not invited to the NIT. To get invited this year you have to cherish the moment. None of us are taking it for granted. We want to get to New York.”
Davenport, who was not able to finish the game against the Houston Cougars last week, did play against San Diego, scoring 16 points. Davenport injured his knee the night before the Houston game and his status for the NIT was unknown earlier this week.
“It is our last go round. It is not what we wanted, but we are still playing together as a team,” Davenport said. “We are not going to give up on it and we are going to fight and try to win it all.”
In the second half, the Toreros were able to cut the Tigers’ lead down to seven points (62-55) with 6:56 remaining in the game but Memphis quickly pushed the lead back up to 14 points with a three-pointer by Martin and a basket by Kareem Brewton, Jr.
The crowd gave Martin, who also had seven boards, a huge ovation when he left the game for the final time with 48 seconds left in the game.
Martin, who was unheralded as a high school recruit, will finish his collegiate career as one of the greatest Tigers of all time. Martin has 688 points on the season, tied with Keith Lee and is second only to Larry Finch with 721 points in one season by a senior. Martin is also the seventh highest for most points scored in a season. Dejaun Waner scored 762 points in the 2001-02 season.
The Tigers improve to 17-3 in its last 17 NIT games. The Tigers won the 2002 NIT Title. The Tigers wore their throwback uniforms and are 4-0 while playing in those.
Martin will get a chance to add to that total in the second round of the NIT. The Tigers will travel to Omaha, NE to play Creighton. NIT games can be watched on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN3.