Two overtime periods at the AAC football championship this afternoon in Orlando were not enough for those who wear University of Memphis colors. The Tigers and Mercer Bears needed two extra sessions to decide things at FedExForum, with Memphis hitting 16 of 18 free throws over the ten bonus minutes to earn another comeback win in what's been a staggering start to the 2017-18 season.
Down for much of the game — nine points at halftime and and eight with six minutes to play — the Tigers tied the game (63-63) at the end of regulation on a three-pointer by freshman Jamal Johnson
well beyond the arc. It was the fourth (and last) three-pointer Johnson hit on 12 attempts.
Junior point guard Jeremiah Martin
converted a three-point play and later hit three free throws after being fouled on a long-distance attempt to give the Tigers a 75-73 lead with five seconds left in the first overtime. But Mercer guard Jordan Strawberry drove the length of the floor and drew a foul on Tiger forward Mike Parks with 1.2 seconds left. Strawberry hit both free throws to force the second OT session. (Strawberry's father, Darryl — the former baseball star — watched the game from a courtside seat near the Bears' bench. His son hit a pair of three-pointers in the first overtime after scoring only three points in regulation.)
All eight of the Tigers' points in the second overtime came from the foul line. Martin hit four (the final two with 2.8 seconds left), Parks two, and Kareem Brewton
two more to provide the margin of victory. Martin deflected the Bears' inbounds pass with just over a second to play to seal the win.
"I thought our kids showed a lot of courage, a lot of toughness," said Tiger coach Tubby Smith. "We weren't shooting the ball well at all, especially from three, but we found a way to win."
More than half the Tigers' field-goal attempts came from long range, but they only connected on seven of 34 (21 percent). Martin and Brewton combined to miss 10 of 12 shots beyond the arc. "We took threes we shouldn't have taken," acknowledged Smith. "They were in a zone. But there were entirely too many threes. We haven't been shooting it well. Luckily, we scored off turnovers, and got the ball into the paint. Second-chance points were big. Guys aren't shooting the ball in rhythm. Often, guys are shooting after a bad pass, instead of making an extra pass."
Martin led the Tigers with 19 points and dished out six assists with only two turnovers in 45 minutes of play. Senior forward Jimario Rivers
also played more than 40 minutes (42) and scored 18 after being held scoreless at UAB Thursday night. Junior Kyvon Davenport
scored 10 points and led Memphis with 11 rebounds before fouling out. Johnson finished with 12 points and Brewton 10. Johnson played 39 minutes off the Tiger bench.
Stephon Jelks led the Bears — minus their leading scorer, Ria'n Holland — with 17 points. Mercer falls to 5-4 with the loss.
"We need to look at our offense and see how we can get more movement," said Smith. "More cuts to the basket. It's early yet. This was our sixth game and their ninth. It makes a difference when you have games under your belt. We're still learning."
Now 4-2, the Tigers will host Samford Tuesday night, then Bryant next Saturday afternoon.