As recently as 10 days ago, the Memphis Tigers basketball found themselves in a prime position to work their way up the standings if they could just string together a few wins. However, after consecutive road losses in which the offense failed to show up for long stretches of each game, they returned home Thursday night for a clash with longtime rival, No. 25 Cincinnati. With roughly a month remaining on the regular season slate, this game served as a chance for Penny Hardaway to see how his team stacks up against some of the best competition the league has to offer.
Toughness on display
One of the main hallmarks of the Cincinnati program is their relentless effort on defense combined with their ability to crash the offensive boards. Although Memphis Tigers have performed considerably better in front of their own fans, it was no secret that they would have to bring the physicality if they wanted to pick up their first signature win of the year.
In the opening half, Hardaway’s team dominated points in the paint and looked well on their way to beating the Bearcats at their own style of play. However, after the halftime break, Mick Cronin’s team brought the fight right to the Tigers and never looked back as they went on to give Memphis only its second loss inside Fedex Forum this year.
Jarron Cumberland made big shot after big shot and his team was able to crash the glass well enough to dictate the pace of play. It was no secret to Hardaway why his team was unable to pull away.
“They imposed their will on us,” Hardaway said. “They were just tougher.”
As postseason play approaches, the fact that Hardaway is saying that about his team at this stage must be a bit concerning for both the coaches and the fans. With the conference tournament taking place in Memphis, the Tigers can at least feel comfortable knowing they’ll have thousands strong supporting them the rest of the way.
Martin shines once again
Prior to this one, Memphis had only dropped one of their 12 home contests coming in. Meanwhile, Cincinnati had only lost one of its league games all season. Something had to give inside Fedex Forum as blue-clad fans packed the rows and prepared to bring the noise.
Senior guard Jeremiah Martin displayed some of the same score-in-bursts ability he showcased against South Florida as he came out firing from the three-point line, quickly converting on 4 attempts from beyond the arc in just the first half.
It was more of the same in the second frame for the senior as he went on to finish with a game-high 26 points, including an 8-of-14 outing from three. While Martin’s contributions were huge in keeping his team competitive tonight, Hardaway knows that he will need to get more out of his players as the conference tournament looms.
“He’s [Jeremiah] stepping up and playing a lot of minutes,” Hardaway said. “But we need him on the floor and other guys have to step up.”
There is no question that Martin is the leader of this bunch. Going forward, fans will surely be hoping his heroic efforts no longer come in the form of tight losses and instead big-time wins.
Cincinnati’s overall record improves to 20-3 and the Bearcats will now turn their attention to huge road matchup with No. 12 Houston this Sunday.
At 13-10, the Tigers have reached a point in their campaign where their only realistic chance at making the NCAA tournament is to win their league tournament.
Although it is certain that Hardaway was hoping his team had collected more wins by now, all there is left to do is finish strong and bounce back after dropping three straight league games that some will argue they should have won. Memphis will get a quick shot at redeeming themselves, as they face a visit from UConn on Sunday at 1 p.m.