“It was the uniforms,” Kareem Brewton Jr. said jokingly.
Brewton and his University of Memphis teammates rolled past the SMU Mustangs 83-61 at the FedExForum on Saturday night. Brewton made six three-point shots (a career high)in the victory in front 16,673 at the FedExForum.
The Tigers wore uniforms reflective of the team that included former UofM star and head coach Penny Hardaways. They now have a 10-1 home-court record this season and moved to one-half game out of first place in the American Athletic Conference.
The team did not see what uniforms they were going to play in until five minutes before tip-off.
“We’re are playing in these uniforms the rest of the season,” Hardaway said in his post-game opening statement.
Encouraged to wear Memphis State gear to the game, the crowd was energized. T-shirts were given out as a game day promotion to the fans. The band wore the MSU shirts. The Tigers responded by starting the game with the energy that Hardaway has be imploring them to start with all season.
And it worked.
“The crowd is always phenomenal. They have not let us down all season,” Hardaway said. “I wanted the throwbacks. I met with Nike at the Final Four last season and begged for those uniforms.”
The Tigers scored the first 13 points of the game to take a (13-0) lead before SMU finally scored with 14:09 left in the first half.
On his shooting performance, Brewton said, “I don’t know what it was. I just felt energy and I felt like I could make shots. Especially when Jeremiah (martin) gave me the first assist.”
Kyvon Davenport had monstrous dunk that inspired the crowd and the bench. Hardaway said it was worthy of a top 10 spot on ESPN’s “Sportcenter.”
“It was in transition,” Davenport said. “I saw my defender creeping up and he was playing the steal. I knew I would get my first step past him and “Alo” (Alex Lomax) saw me and I was able to finish.”
Still, it was the team’s defensive efforts that drew much praise from Hardaway.
“As a coach who has been teaching defensive efforts all season, you are just happy for the kids,” he said. “Now they have something they can feed off of. …The more games you come out with that energy, the more often you are going to have success”.
Brewton got off to a fast start to lead the Tigers in the first half. He scored on 5 of his 7 three-point attempts and led the team with 15 points. Mike Parks Junior scored 8 points and Raynere Thornton added seven. The Tigers took a (40-23) lead into halftime despite Martin only scoring two points. Lomax made his return to the lineup after missing the last game.
The Tigers opened the second half with a 12-5 run. With 12 minutes left in the game, the Tigers defense had held the Mustangs to 28 percent shooting from the field.
It was the Tigers’ most complete game of the season. They led by as many as 35 points in the second half. Brewton lead the Tigers with 20 points and Thornton had one of his best all-around games as a Tigers grabbing 14 rebounds and scoring 11 points.
The Tigers had a season high 23 assists. Martin had a career-high 11 assists and made some impressive passes in the process.
“This is exactly what I have been looking for when you talk about punch first,” Hardaway said. “They did not score on their first 14 possessions. That is what you want as a coach. Then they started playing harder. Then the bench got more involved. We can continue this by (getting) them to continue to believe in what we do”.
The Tiger will travel to Philadelphia to take on the Temple Owls on Thursday (January 24) at 6 p.m. The game can be seen on the CBS Sports Network.
The Tigers are in a three-way tie for 3rd place in the AAC with Temple and UCF and are only one-half game out of first place behind Cincinnati and Houston.