There was a time — not that long ago – when the Tiger basketball team's home opener seemed to rescue the city of Memphis from football season. Tuesday night, it seemed like much of the hoops fan base stayed home for this week's College Football Playoff rankings update. (The Tigers moved up a notch to 21 after their bye week.)
The home team played its first 10 minutes against Little Rock as though the players were counting empty seats. (Announced attendance: 7,224. Actual attendance: less than that.) The Tigers missed 10 of their first 12 shots from the field and found themselves down 21-7 after 12 minutes. They turned the ball over 10 times before handing out two assists. They had four shots blocked before connecting on four field goals.
Then Jeremiah Martin
came to the rescue. The junior point guard from Mitchell High School scored every Tiger point on a 10-2 Memphis run late in the first half on his way to a career-high of 26. The Tigers didn't take the lead until junior forward Kyvon Davenport
converted a leaner inside with 5:22 to play for a 55-53 advantage. The junior-college transfer — one of three to start for Memphis — hit a three-pointer from the top of the key on the Tigers' next possession to stretch the lead to five (58-53) and the Tigers never trailed again.
"I felt like if I got going, the whole team would get going," said Martin. "We're hard on each other, every day in practice. Malik [Rhodes]
and I go at each other as point guards. I knew he'd be ready." Playing 22 minutes off the bench, Rhodes scored nine points and dished out four assists. "We woke up," said Rhodes. "We turned it up. We saw Jeremiah pick it up and he's our leader."
After the brutal start, the Tigers managed to stabilize despite still identifying the moving parts that will impact coach Tubby Smith's second season in Memphis. After 10 turnovers in the game's first 10 minutes, the Tigers only had one miscue over the game's final 30. After shooting 31 percent in the first half, the Tigers hit 52 percent of their shots in the second. Just enough to even their record at 1-1 and give Smith some positive film with which to teach.
"I'm proud of how our guys competed," said Smith, "especially down 14 or 15 like that early in the game. You can collapse. But we showed some toughness. We weren't being very aggressive early. We were having a tough time defending them, one-on-one. We took some bad shots, but that had something to do with their length. Our zone slowed them down some."
Smith needs leadership in this transitional year, and he hopes he saw one in jersey number 3 Tuesday night. "He didn't play well in Annapolis [last Friday]," said Smith. "Nobody played well. We talked about leadership, what I need from him. Taking him off the ball helped. Malik did a good job of orchestrating the offense. I'm glad [Jeremiah] responded the way he did. He kept the team together; kept me together, too."
The Trojans (now 0-2) were led in the scoring column by Jaizec Lottie with 12 points. Wadley Mompremier scored seven points, grabbed seven rebounds, and blocked four shots in 24 minutes off the bench.
The Tigers return to action on November 21st when New Orleans visits FedExForum.