NEW YORK CITY – Most of the University of Memphis’ Tigers were taking their first steps inside of New York’s famed Madison Square Garden when they squared off against the Louisville Cardinals in the showcase game of the Gotham Classic.
With 8:04 left in the game and the Cardinals (8-2) leading 60-56, the Tigers’ Kyvon Davenport blocked a shot and the UofM had a chance to cut the lead to two points. But they could not get over the hump en route to a 91-82 loss.
“I think we played well, but there are more things we could have done to get the win,” said senior guard Jeremiah Martin, who scored a season high 26 points, along with three steals, three assists, nine rebounds and two block shots. He led the team in all categories.
After the game, Martin was not embracing the notion of a moral victory for being competitive with the ACC’s Cardinals.
“Respect is earned, and it is earned by winning,” he said. “I think the effort was there, but at the end of the day we lost. At some point in the game the effort wasn’t there, if it was we would have won.”
The first half was an exciting tug of war between the two former conference rivals. The Cardinals pushed to a nine-point lead (28-19), but the Tigers kept the game within reach. Davenport hit a three-pointer. Mike Parks Jr. added a put-back layup. Kareem Brewton Jr. completed a three-point play and Memphis was within a point (28-27) with four minutes left before the break.
The Cardinals had one of their best shooting halves this season. Louisville shot 50 percent from the floor, including going 8 of 13 from three-point range. Deng Adel, V.J. King and Quentin Snider each had two three-pointers.
The Cardinals came into the game as the second-best team in the nation in blocked shots (7.9 per game) and they did not do anything to hurt that standing. The Cardinals had 14 total block shots, including 8 in the first half.
Martin did his best to keep the Tigers close, scoring 18 of his 26 points.
UofM head coach Tubby Smith gave Louisville its props. “They did a good job of making shots. They made a bunch of threes on us. They have a good inside-outside game. I’m proud of the way our guys competed today. … We improved in certain areas today, but we still need to improve in some others.”
Reflecting on the key opportunity to reel Louisville in when the Tigers got to within four points in the second half, Smith said, “We gave up a three. We came into the game with emphasis of taking away the three and guarding the three.
“We battled, but we made some tough decisions, took some bad shots and missed some put backs. We missed some inside shots that we didn’t come away with a foul or a bucket.”
Against what he called the “pretty long” Cardinals, the Tigers needed to do more shot faking, Davenport said. “(B)ut we were in the lane just going up and that was a problem. The next time we have an opponent like that, we need to focus on jumping off of two and finishing stronger.”
Despite being the smaller team, the Tigers rebounded the Cardinals 35 to 34. And while Louisville swatted shots away, the Tigers hustled and maintained possession on many occasions. Parks had one of his better games, finishing with 8 points (all in the first half) and setting a tone with the more physical Cardinals.
Brewton had another good game. He finished with 9 points and had 5 rebounds coming off the bench. Davenport bounced back after a subpar game against Albany, finishing with 12 points and seven rebounds. He also made two of his five three-point shots.
Martin’s competitive nature was in full effect after the game.
“I come out here to win. It doesn’t matter about the stats. If we got the win and I didn’t play I would still be happy,” he said. “At the end of the day, I am not happy about the way I played, because we didn’t win.”
Martin said he has had a chip on his shoulder since last season.
“I was challenged to lead 11 new players. So every day and every night I wake up with a chip on my shoulder. The team has a chip (on its) shoulder, because people say we are not good enough. People say, ‘they have 11 new guys and they are not going to be anything.’ I commend my teammates on how they come out here and played.”
The Tigers lost Jimario Rivers midway through the second half and his absence was missed down the stretch.
Rivers hit his head during a collision and went into concussion protocol. Rivers ended the first half with a spectacular alley-oop dunk over seven-footer Anas Mahmoud on a pass from Brewton. That tied the score at 38. Rivers only played six minutes in the second half before he exited to the locker room and never returned.
Next up for the Tigers is Siena as the UofM returns to play Wednesday night FedExForum, where they remain unbeaten. The tipoff is 7 p.m. The game can be seen on the CW30.