Tiger sophomore Jeremiah Martin
has been among the most sure-handed point guards in the country this season. He entered Tuesday night's game at FedExForum with only 17 turnovers in 296 minutes of game action. But with his team down a point with less than ten seconds to play, Martin — tightly guarded along the left sideline — lost control of his footing and dribble, giving Monmouth the ball with a solitary second left on the game clock. Two Je'lon Hornbeak free throws later and Memphis had its first home loss of the season, falling to 7-3 overall. The Hawks — expected to be contenders for the MAAC crown — improved to 9-2 and have now won eight straight.
"We probably should have called timeout and set something else up," acknowledged Memphis coach Tubby Smith after the game. "We were trying to set up a pick and roll with Dedric [Lawson], maybe a lob or a bounce pass."
Smith was quick to point out that the final play was merely one instance in which his team was outplayed. "They did a good job of confusing us. They showed us some zone, then man-to-man. They're quick enough on the perimeter that they can do that and recover pretty well." Hornbeak and undersized point guard Justin Robinson each had 21 points for the Hawks, Hornbeak hitting six of seven attempts from three-point range.
The Tigers led by 10 (45-35) at halftime, Dedric Lawson
showing the way with 10 points and 10 rebounds in the game's first 20 minutes. (Lawson's 25th career double-double ties him for 10th in Memphis history.) His three-pointer with 12:35 to play gave Memphis a 60-53 lead.
Over the game's next four minutes, though, the Hawks enjoyed a 15-7 run to take the lead, Austin Tilghman completing the run with a three-point play for a 68-67 Monmouth advantage.
Martin converted a three-point play of his own with 2:03 left on the clock to tie the score at 77. After Monmouth converted a free throw, Markel Crawford
hit a layup to give the Tigers a 79-78 lead. The Hawks turned the ball over on the ensuing possession, but the Tigers gave it right back on an inbounds play near the end of the shot clock.
Robinson attacked the lane and drew a foul on Dedric Lawson with 14.2 seconds left. He hit both free throws to put Monmouth back on top, 80-79, setting up the final mishandled possession for Martin and the Tigers.
"They had a bunch of second-chance points [in the second half], and that really hurt us," said Smith. "We didn't box out on the weak side, and they were beating us off the dribble a lot. The post player has to help. That's where we started to lose momentum. They made some open shots, and made a nice backdoor play that caught us. We were tensing up. And we missed some open shots. When you don't match a team that's offensive-oriented like this . . . that hurts." Monmouth has scored at least 76 points in all eights games of its winning streak.
After falling two blocks shy of the fourth triple-double in Tiger history Saturday against UAB, Dedric Lawson came up just three assists shy of the achievement Tuesday night, adding 18 points and 14 rebounds. Martin matched his career-high 14 points, K.J. Lawson
added 13, and Crawford 12. For the second game in a row, the quartet all played at least 36 minutes. Center Chad Rykhoek
added a season-high 12 points in 18 minutes of action. Memphis shot 47 percent from the field but missed 11 of 32 free throws.
The Tigers travel to Oklahoma Saturday to face the Sooners of the Big 12. They return to FedExForum next Wednesday to host Incarnate Word of the Southland Conference.