TAMPA, Fla. — Jeremiah Martin scored a career-high 41 points – all in the second half – but the University of Memphis couldn’t overcome a huge first-half deficit Saturday at USF. The Bulls, who jumped to a 27-1 lead, withstood a furious second-half comeback by the Tigers in an 84-78 American Athletic Conference win at the Yuengling Center.
The 41 points were the most in one half by a Tiger and seven shy of the school’s single-game mark set by Larry Finch (48 points) nearly 50 years ago.
It was the first 40-point game by a Tiger since Marcus Moody scored 41 versus Oklahoma in December 1997. With his 41 points Saturday, Martin moved up four spots — from No. 25 to No. 21 — on the Memphis all-time scoring chart and now has 1,275 career points.
Martin made 13-of-20 field goals, including seven 3-pointers, and made 8-of-12 free throws. The seven treys are for the fourth-most in a game in program history.
But the Tigers (13-9, 5-4 The American) were undone by digging too deep a first-half hole.
“I’m proud of my guys for fighting back in the second half,” Tigers coach Penny Hardaway said. “The first half was a nightmare. The second half was our type of basketball.”
The Tigers made 21 of 41 shots in the second half (51.2 percent) after missing 24 of 28 attempts in the first half. The UofM also made 10 second-half 3-pointers.
“We just have to figure a way to start a game how we ended the game,” Hardaway said.
USF (15-6, 5-4 The American) was led by David Collins, who had 20 points and Justin Brown, who scored 19. Brown made five 3-pointers.
Martin was the story in the second half. His 41 points were one shy of the arena record. He was 13-of-17 shooting in the second half and 7-of-8 from beyond the arc.
“For a personal goal it’s great, but, honestly, you don’t feel good because we lost,” Martin said. “If I’d done more in the first half, I would have given my team a better chance to win.”
Martin scored 19 points in the first seven minutes of the half to give the Tigers an opportunity to climb out of a 25-point halftime deficit. Seconds after his third 3-pointer during the stretch, Mike Parks’ putback made it a 13-point game (USF 52, Memphis 39).
Martin continued his points assault and his putback in traffic with 9:09 left cut the USF advantage to 11 points, 59-48. The points were the 23rd and 24th of the half for Martin, who was held scoreless in the opening half.
The Tigers kept fighting back and when Tyler Harris connected on a 3-pointer from the left corner with 4:16 to go the UofM had trimmed the USF lead to single digits (69-60). When Martin drained the last of his seven 3-pointers in the final minute, the Tigers had trimmed the USF lead to six points, 82-76.
But it was as close as they would come to the Bulls, who won their third straight and improved to 12-2 at home.
Much like at Temple and Tulsa last month, the Tigers struggled to start the game and fell behind by double digits. At Temple, the UofM was down 28-8 in the first half. At Tulsa, they dug an early 11-2 hole.
Saturday at USF, the Tigers were down 27-1 midway through the first half after missing their first 15 field-goal attempts. They didn’t connect on their first field goal until 10:09 remained in the half. Kyvon Davenport dropped in a 3-pointer three minutes after Tyler Harris had scored the UofM’s first points on a free throw.
At the half, the Tigers trailed, 38-13. They shot 14.3 percent (4-of-28) in the opening 20 minutes and committed 13 turnovers.
USF shot 52.2 percent (12-of-23) and made 6 of 10 3-pointers. Collins had 16 points at the half for the Bulls.
Memphis returns home after the two-game road trip to face Cincinnati Thursday at FedExForum. Game time for Thursday’s tilt is 6 p.m. (CT).