MEMPHIS, Tenn. – If this was University of Memphis senior guard’s final game at FedExForum, he went out on an upbeat note.
Playing in his first postseason game as a Tiger, Martin scored a game-high 21 points and a grabbed a team-high seven rebounds in a 74-60 opening-round NIT victory over San Diego Tuesday night. Tyler Harris and Kyvon Davenport added 16 points each in the U of M’s first postseason game since the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
Memphis (22-13) shot 60 percent in the second half – and 48 percent for the game – to advance to the second-round in the 32-team tournament against Creighton in Omaha, Nebraska. The day and tipoff time will be announced Wednesday. Creighton is the No. 2 seed in the TCU Region and the UofM is the No. 3 seed.
In winning their 11th straight NIT home game, the Tigers led for more than 36 minutes and built a 15-point second-half lead to give their five seniors a chance to play another game.
“I’m very happy for these guys,” Tigers coach Penny Hardaway said of his seniors. “The NIT is definitely a blessing so they can extend their careers.”
It also was a blessing, of sorts, for Harris, the Tigers freshman. After missing a potential game-tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the team’s semifinal loss to Houston in the American Athletic Conference Championship last weekend, Harris came out with a purpose.
Harris, held scoreless against Houston, had a trio of 3-pointers in the first half during a 16-0 run that put the Tigers up by double-digits.
“My confidence level is pretty high,” Harris said. “All the coaches and the players, they always tell me to not be afraid to shoot, especially coach Penny Hardaway.”
San Diego (21-15), playing the UofM for the first time, trailed by double-digits most of the second half, outside of one run that trimmed to lead to seven (62-55) with 7:18 to go. Olin Carter, who led the Toreros with 17 points, made it a seven-point game with his third straight 3-pointer before the Tigers pulled back away.
“First off, let me give credit to Memphis and coach Hardaway,” said San Diego coach Sam Scholl. “I told him it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch what he does with this program.”
San Diego was undone by 22 turnovers and being held to 36.7 percent shooting.
“It wasn’t a pretty game, but we held them to 36-percent shooting from the field, which is always great,” Hardaway said. “We turned them over 22 times. I’m always proud of when we have the (effort) on the defensive end.”
At the half, the Tigers led 37-30. Memphis was up by 14 midway through the half shortly after putting together a 16-0 run. Harris had three 3-pointers during the run and Mike Parks dropped in a pair of layups.
San Diego responded with an 18-5 run that trimmed what had been a huge advantage to a single point, 29-28. A 3-pointer by Tyler Williams made it a one-point game with about three minutes to go in the half.
Memphis closed with an 8-2 run, including a layup at the buzzer by Raynere Thornton, to take its seven-point lead at the half.
The Tigers shot 39.4 percent in the first half and were outrebounded, 24-17, but were aided by committing only four turnovers.