WICHITA, Kan. – The University of Memphis claimed its biggest win under first-year coach Penny Hardaway Saturday night in the most hostile environment it has experienced under him.
Before 10,506 at Koch Arena, the Tigers beat Wichita State 88-85 behind 37 points from senior point guard Jeremiah Martin and 16 points and nine rebounds from senior forward Raynere Thornton.
Martin continued one of the most torrid stretches in school history in the victory, scoring 29 in the second half and feeding Thornton with a key dunk. Martin is averaging 30 points in seven games this month.
Wichita State (13-13, 6-8 The American) had won five of six before Saturday, but the Tigers (17-11, 9-6 The American) were up to the challenge, despite falling behind by 16 in the first half. The Tigers shot 61 percent in the second half.
With the victory, the Tigers put themselves in stronger position to grab a top 4 seed in next month’s conference tournament at FedExForum and the first-round bye that comes with it.
“I’m proud of our guys for pulling it out in this environment,” Hardaway said. “We’ve grown immensely, night and day, from where we were a month ago playing on the road.”
In addition to Martin and Thornton, Kareem Brewton Jr. had 14 points and six rebounds, including a key rebound in the final seconds.
“Ray and K.B. were locked in, like Jeremiah was,” Hardaway said.
In the frantic final minutes, the Tigers never fell behind, despite Wichita State tying the game at 75-all with four minutes to go. Thornton gave the Tigers a 79-75 lead with consecutive dunks, the first on a feed from Brewton and the second on an assist from Kyvon Davenport.
The Tigers hit 8 of 10 free throws in the final 2:22 to secure the win.
“This was one of the top five performances, in one of the top five environments, we have played in,” Martin said.
Dexter Dennis and Samajae Haynes-Jones had 17 each to lead Wichita State, and Markis McDuffie had 15.
Memphis opened the second half trailing by four, but came charging out and began on a 12-4 run to take a four-point lead. Brewton scored twice in the lane on consecutive possessions and Martin added a 3-pointer to trim the Shockers’ advantage to a point (44-43).
Davenport gave the Tigers their first lead since the opening minutes of the game when he drained two free throws to make it 45-44.
After a Martin 3-pointer made it 48-44, the Tigers proceeded to go on a 10-3 run that included two more Martin 3-pointers and a fastbreak right-handed dunk following a steal. The Tigers led 58-47 with 12:24 left.
At the under-12-minute media timeout, the UofM led 60-49 and had made nine of its 10 second-half field goals. The Tigers eventually built a 13-point cushion (68-55) on a 3-pointer by Martin with 7:55 left.
But the Shockers didn’t quit. They fought back to create the beginnings of what could become a great league rivalry. The Shockers tied the game at 75-all on a 3-pointer by McDuffie with 4:05 to go.
In the first half, the Tigers fell quickly behind and trailed by as many as 16 (24-8) midway through the period. The UofM missed 12 straight field goals at one stretch, contributing to the Shockers’ 22-4 run.
The Tigers were able to recover, mostly behind the play of Thornton and Brewton. Thornton scored 12 points in the final eight minutes of the half, scoring in a variety of ways, from 3-pointers and putback dunks to strong drives and midrange jumpers. Brewton added several acrobatic layups as the Tigers trimmed their 16-point deficit to four points (40-36) at the half.
Memphis shot 34.3 in the opening half, but stayed close by converting 10 of 13 free throws and out-rebounding the Shockers, 23-21. Wichita State shot 44.4 percent and only turned the ball over four times.
The Tigers return home to play Temple Tuesday night at FedExForum in an American Athletic Conference game that tips off at 8 p.m.
– gotigersgo.com –