understands the weight he carries for the 2017-18 Memphis Tigers. And he knows his performances in the Tigers' first two American Athletic Conference games — a combined 12 points, three assists, and four turnovers — won't allow this team to be what it might, whatever that standard may be. Saturday at FedExForum, Martin played like an all-conference guard, an AAC Player of the Year candidate. The junior from Mitchell High School scored a career-high 28 points and handed out eight assists (twice his number of turnovers), numbers that would have been even higher had he not been limited to 12 minutes in the first half because of a pair of fouls.
"I've been talking with my high school coach, and my mom," said Martin. "I met with Coach [Tubby] Smith yesterday. I hadn't been playing well. But we put in a game plan for today and perfected it." Martin spearheaded a 22-4 Tiger run over the game's final 10 minutes, feeding junior center Mike Parks
on consecutive possessions to give Memphis a 57-56 lead with just over eight minutes to play, a lead the Tigers would not relinquish. Parks scored a season-high 16 points, all of them in the second half, hitting seven of nine field-goal attempts and pulling down a team-high seven rebounds.
"[Martin's] our captain, our leader," said Parks. "When he sparks, we're all gonna spark." Parks emphasized an aggressive approach, particularly on the offensive end, direction he's been given by Smith if he is to be a player of impact during league play.
"It was a good win for us," said Smith, "against a team that has been playing extremely well. I'm proud of the way our guys responded. We've been struggling the last two games. But we played a good 30 minutes at Central Florida [Wednesday]. We have so many new guys. I'm proud of the way they fought back and didn't panic."
The win improves Memphis to 10-6 for the season and gives the Tigers their first AAC victory, while dropping the Golden Hurricane to 10-6 and delivering Tulsa its first league loss (3-1).
scored 11 points for the Tigers but was limited to 25 minutes by foul trouble. Freshman Jamal Johnson
scored 10 points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked three shots. The Tigers made 50 percent of their field-goal attempts while holding Tulsa to 36 percent. After losing the rebounding battle in the first half (20-15), the Tigers controlled the glass in the second (18-11). The Tigers outscored Tulsa 38-24 in the paint and 15-2 on the fast break.
"We took care of the basketball," noted Smith. (The Tigers had 10 turnovers, half their total of assists.) "That's the key, and we defended. We challenged them at the rim. We became more physical inside. I knew we were more physical today because we had some foul issues. The last three games, we hadn't done that. It was a huge plus today."
Senior Jimario Rivers came off the bench and played 24 minutes, making an impact with a block and steal on the defensive end. Smith acknowledged that the forward's head injury (during the Louisville game on December 16th) took more out of him than the Tiger training staff originally thought. Rivers is counted upon to share some of the leadership weight with Saturday's star.
"We talked about staying positive," said Smith. "It's easy to get negative; when you're losing, that happens. It brings out the character in you. [Jeremiah] said, 'Coach, we're gonna be okay. If you can just be a little more positive, we'll be alright.' We had a conversation about execution. There's been so much teaching with this team, the most I've ever done. Eleven new guys. That's the way it is, but we're getting there."
The Tigers return to FedExForum Tuesday night to host Tulane. The Green Wave lost to Tulsa (65-56) on New Year's Eve. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.