"[Jeremiah Martin] seems confident in himself at this point. He's a driven guy right now." — Temple coach Fran Dunphy
As he nears retirement at the end of the season, longtime Temple coach Fran Dunphy found himself the recipient of a gift basket from the Memphis Tigers before Tuesday night's game at FedExForum. Then, as part of the send-off, Tiger guard Jeremiah Martin
did what he's done the entire month of February: score at will.
Martin's 30 points completed one of the most remarkable individual months in Memphis history and, more importantly, keyed a Tiger victory over a team they're chasing in the American Athletic Conference standings. Martin hit 11 of 16 shots from the field, scoring 15 points in both halves to help Memphis avenge a loss at Temple on January 24th. Over eight games in February, Martin averaged 30.6 points to take over the AAC scoring lead. The win improves the Tigers to 18-11 on the season and 10-6 in AAC play, now one game back of the Owls (20-8 and 10-5 in the AAC).
"Martin speaks for himself," said Dunphy after the Tigers completed their fifth win in six games. "He's got so much savvy out there, a wonderful finisher at the rim. He made plays not just for himself, but also for others."
Martin handed out five assists in helping the Tigers erase a 38-33 halftime deficit. He sparked a key 11-2 Tiger run over a three-minute stretch late in the second half, one that increased a three-point Memphis lead (57-54) to twelve points (68-56). His three-point play during the run followed a three-point shot from the left corner by senior forward Kyvon Davenport
, who finished the game with 12 points.
"I'm just playing within the flow of the game," said a typically humble Martin after the game. "Overall, it was a well-balanced game. Every game now is a playoff game. I love it; there's pressure. We know what it takes to win a tough game, but we're still learning."
"Temple came here knowing they needed a win," said Tiger coach Penny Hardaway. "They played desperate. They shot really well in the first half, but 37 percent for the entire game. To get this win, I'm proud of them. We shot 57 percent in the second half and that was crucial."
Temple guard Shizz Alston — second only to Martin among AAC scorers, averaging 18.9 points per game — scored 22 points but missed nine of 11 three-point attempts, often guarded by Martin himself.
"When we're right, we're capable of doing some things people thought we couldn't do," said Hardaway. "We're peaking at the right time and able to do some great things moving forward."
Hardaway has sought a collective toughness in his first college team, and seemed to recognize it, particularly late in Tuesday's win. "We've been really grinding it out," said Hardaway, "even in the loss at UCF. We made some mental mistakes, but we showed that we're capable of staying in there, sustaining, and fighting back. Today's game was no different. It was a playoff game in our minds. Temple plays that slow, methodical game, and we hung in there. The toughness is there now."
Freshman guard Antwann Jones
came off the Tiger bench and scored 10 points in 19 minutes, his most on the scoreboard since January 10th. Senior forward Raynere Thornton
pulled down 11 rebounds and added eight points.
The Tigers travel to Cincinnati for their next game Saturday against the 23rd-ranked Bearcats. It will be March of course, the month for madness in the world of college basketball. All Memphis — both the team and city — can hope for is Jeremiah Martin playing like it's still February.
NOTE: I'll be on the road this weekend and unable to report on the Cincinnati game. I'll be back on press row for the regular-season finale (March 9th) and throughout the AAC tournament (March 14-17).