Before the first ball of this basketball season bounced, the senior leadership of guard Jeremiah Martin was thought to be a tangible that head coach Tubby Smith and the University of Memphis staff would need plenty of to help gel a roster heavy with new faces.
Coming off of a 82-70 loss to the University of Alabama, the Tigers came out sleepwalking against the University of Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans at the FedExForum on Monday night. It was Martin who helped shake them from a dismal start and point the way to a 70-62 win.
“We just woke up and turned it up because of the leadership of Jeremiah,” said Malik Rhodes, the junior college transfer from Barton Community College. “He is the leader of this team and we went behind our leader.”
Rhodes had a good second half, scoring 7 of his 9 points and making three assists during the Tigers’ dominance in the second half.
“I thought we could get them in transition,” Martin said. “I felt that if I could get going, then the whole team could get going. Coach told us if we play the second half like we played the last stretch of the half, we would win this game easy.”
The Tigers had shown no offensive aggressiveness early on, committing 10 turnovers en route to the lackluster start. In the first 8 minutes, the Tigers were only making 29 percent of their shots while the Trojans were a blistering 69 percent from the floor. With 8:23 left in the first half, the Trojans were in complete control and had stretched the lead to 13 during that run.
Martin scored 10 straight points for the Tigers and cut the Trojans lead down to 6 (23-17). He finished with a career-high 26 points on 7 of 12 shooting, including 4 of 5 from three-point range.
The Tigers committed only one additional turnover from the point Martin took over the game. Kyvon Davenport and the rest of the Tigers took notice of Martin’s take-charge attitude. Davenport, the only other Tiger to score in double figures (13 points), made 2 of 3 shots from three-point range. Davenport’s three with 7:33 left tied the game for the first time and he also made the basket that put the Tigers ahead for the first time.
“In the first nine minutes the team came out hard, but we were not hitting any shots,” Davenport said. “In the last nine we were talking. Jeremiah was getting us going on the court, telling us what to do, where to get on the right spot of the court. He led us well this game.”
Smith attributed much of his team’s bad start to bad shot selections taking care of the basketball.
“We are learning to play together and know where the shots are going to come from. We are learning to make the extra pass. Taking care of the basketball is huge,” he said.
Martin, said Smith, was superb,
“I am really pleased with the way he responded. He did not play well in Annapolis (against Alabama). We talked about leadership and what we need from him. Taking him off the ball helped some…. Malik (Rhodes) really did a good job of orchestrating the offense.”
The Tigers (1-1) will not play again until next Tuesday (November 21). They will host New Orleans at 7 p.m. The game can be seen on espn3.com.