The overused yet true for Memphis cliche goes, “You must protect home court.” That is what the Tigers did when they defeated the Temple Owls, 81-73, improving their record at FedExForum, 14-2.
This game was not one of the best performances by head coach Penny Hardaway’s team and by no means was it one of the prettiest games, but he said he is pleased with his guys and how they maintained and grind out a victory, when it mattered the most.
“We didn’t play our best game, even though we held them to like 37 percent for the game,” Hardaway said. “They shot really well in the first half, and the second half things kind of went our way... With us having such an ugly game and not being able to ever push off, to get this win against a tough Temple team, I’m proud of that.”
A game of two halves
Seven lead changes, tied four times, this AAC battle had a little bit of everything as each team had their way at different times during this match-up. Temple went into the half leading by five, after going on a 11-0 run for more than three minutes. There was no offensive production as Alex Lomax and Tyler Harris combined for three turnovers during a 60-second stretch of the first half and were immediately yanked out by Hardaway. By halftime, the Owls were shooting 43.3 percent from the field and were 4-of-9 from behind the arc.
Going into the second half, Memphis had a lot of energy and controlled the tempo of the game. The Tigers went on a 10-0 run and led 43-42. After the game, Temple’s head coach Fran Dunphy said this was similar to Memphis’ comeback push in the second half when the two faced off in Philadelphia earlier in the season, but the results were different this time.
“We survived the first time,” Dunphy said. “I thought we played a pretty good first half to get a five-point lead at the end of the half. I thought they came out the second half and did some really good things. (Antwann) Jones made a huge jumper along the baseline. (Jeremiah) Martin speaks for himself. He’s just a terrific player.”
It is still Jeremiah Martin’s world
Martin said he was the best player in the conference, and he continues to prove his self proclaimed statement night after night. He wowed and amazed the crowd as he dropped 30 points shooting 11-of-16 from the field and knocking down two of his six three-pointer attempts. Martin was not only getting buckets for himself, but he also got his teammates going by dishing out five assists. He said he allowed the game to himself and took what the opponents gave him.
“(I was) just playing within the team and within the flow of the game,” Martin said. “Making shots and just trusting my coaches and my teammates trusting me. That’s it.”
Martin said with three games remaining for the rest of the season, the pressure and sense of urgency is steadily increasing. Regardless of that, he said he welcomes it.
“Everything is business,” Martin said. “Every game from now, coach been saying it everyday, every game is a playoff game... Ain’t got much room for error for no one. I love it. It’s pressure. It’s that time of the year, your season’s over if you lose.”
Bettering the odds
Temple was playing desperately because they knew, just like Memphis, how important this game was in terms of getting a first-round bye in the AAC Tournament that is coming up next month. Memphis is currently 10-6 in conference play while the Owls are 10-5.
After this victory, the Tigers are a half game back from the fourth seed which would grant them a first round bye in the conference tournament. This is important because it is the difference of winning four games or three games to win and get an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament.
The Tigers almost defeated No. 23 Cincinnati in Memphis but allowed Jarron Cumberland to eat, blasting them in the last five minutes of the game. Saying the Tigers have struggled on the road is an understatement. Nonetheless, they understand a victory in the The Blue Chip City would do wonders for their confidence.
Cincinatti will play host to the Tigers at 7 p.m. on Saturday Mar. 2 on ESPNU.