Senior day at the University of Memphis vs the Tulsa Hurricanes had no meaning for the Tigers in terms of seeding in the American Athletic Conference Tournament that will be played next week at the FedExForum. And only a victory in the AAC championship game will give the Tigers a berth in the NCAA tournament.
Still, it was Senior Day and the will to win was ratcheted up, with the result a 66-63 victory of Tulsa in front of 17,611 at FedExForum.
The seniors — Kareem Brewton, Kyvon Davenport, Mike Parks Jr. and fan0favorite Jeremiah Martin — were introduced to the crowd with their families and presented framed jerseys. All of the seniors started the game, the last of their regular-season careers.
Tiger’s head coach Penny Hardaway called the game a must-win for his team. He wanted to send a message to the rest of the conference that beating the Tigers at the FedExForum is going to be tough next week. The Tigers finished the season with a 15-2 home record, with the only losses to Tennessee and Cincinnati.
Memphis and Tulsa Both entered the game with identical overall records, 18-12.
“We didn’t start the way we wanted, but this a game we would not have won a month ago. We didn’t play our best basketball. We hung our hats on defense today, instead of offense. It shows the growth of this team,” said Hardaway.
Earlier in the day, Mayor Jim Strickland tweeted a proclamation that March 9 was “Jeremiah Martin Day” in the city of Memphis.
“Peso got his day today, which is awesome,” Hardaway said of the proclamation and Martin’s pregame reception.
“Seeing Ray, Kyvon and Mike come out, it was like, wow, my first senior night. When Peso came out the energy changed. Hometown kid, I know where he came from. I have known Jeremiah since he was in the sixth grade.”
Martin’s career with the Tigers reflects that “hard work pays off,” Hardaway said. “Now he is one of the best guards in the country.”
Martin said his sister alerted him to the proclamation declaring “Jeremiah Martin Day.”
“She sent me a screen shot. I had to turn my phone off, because I was getting so many calls. I feel blessed by the city recognizing me. It shows that if you are loyal and do things the right way, good things happen for you,” Martin said.
“I am honored that the mayor did that for me and I am very appreciative. I love my city and everything I do is for my city.”
Fittingly, free throws by Martin with seconds left in the game thput the game out of reach.
“It was just winning time,” he said. “It was my last game I wanted to go out with a win.”
Martin led the Tigers with 20 points and freshman Tyler Harris had 16 points. The Hurricanes were led by Curran Scott with 13 points and Lawson Korita with 12 points. Each team termed in balanced efforts. Memphis had 41 rebounds, Tulsa had 40. Both teams made 14 free throws. Memphis had 12 assists, Tulsa had 10.
Hardaway noted the Tigers’ improved effort.
“We have been talking about this for at least a month. After the South Florida loss, we had to change the tone of who we are,” he said. “Everyone is buying in now and the offensive end is not the only one that they care about. We know that we have to get stops and we are doing that now.”
The Tigers would have to win four games in four days to win the AAC Tournament. Hardaway and his staff have this message for the players:
“ We tell them we have been in college. We understand you are going to want to go out and be with family and friends. You are going to have to tone it down this week. You have to rest, hydrate and eat properly. Things you have not focused on all season, you have to change it now because it is post-season.”
The Tigers begin tournament play against Tulane on Thursday (March 14) at 2 p.m. or 30 minutes after the finish of the South Florida vs UCONN game that starts at noon. All first-round games can be seen on ESPNU.