MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Maybe it was the throwback Memphis State uniforms, the ones worn by Tigers’ coach Penny Hardaway when he played in the early 1990s.
Or it could have been the play of senior guard Kareem Brewton, who made a career-high six 3-pointers.
Perhaps it was the second double-double of Raynere Thornton’s career, which included a career-best 14 rebounds or Jeremiah Martin’s career-high tying 11 assists.
Whatever the reason, the Tigers played their most complete game of the season Saturday at FedExForum. The UofM defeated SMU, 83-61, in an American Athletic Conference game before 16,673.
In the victory, the Tigers (12-6, 4-1 The American) had a season-high 24 assists and outrebounded one of the conference’s top teams on the boards, 39-38. Brewton led the Tigers with 20 points, Tyler Harris added 14 and Kyvon Davenport scored 12, including two on a monstrous driving dunk in the second half.
“We had a full week of great practices and competition and it carried over,” Hardaway said. “I couldn’t have been more proud of the guys.”
The Tigers jumped to a 13-0 lead and held SMU (11-7, 3-3) scoreless until 12:44 remained in the opening half. Memphis led 40-23 at the half and never trailed in the game.
The UofM limited the Mustangs to 36.2 percent shooting and built its lead to 35 late in the second half.
“The energy was crazy from the beginning,” Hardaway said. “I think we are starting to believe in what we are doing. The kids are starting to buy more into the game plan. Everyone is so into what we are doing now as a team, as a family, as a brotherhood.”
Leading by 17 at the half, the Tigers did not allow SMU to make a comeback try. Memphis eventually built its 35-point lead (74-39) late in the second half after a 13-2 run capped by a Thornton reverse slam and including two Harris 3-pointers.
“I feel we came out with a lot of energy from the beginning and the crowd got into it,” Davenport said. “That was our main focus from the beginning. I felt we picked up the defense and got some stops.”
At the half, the Tigers led, 40-23. The Tigers built an early 13-0 lead and never trailed in the opening 20 minutes. SMU didn’t score until its 15th possession of the game, scoring on a jumper by Feron Hunt.
SMU trimmed the Tigers’ advantage to four points (25-21) with 6:19 to go in the first half on a 3-pointer from Nat Dixon. But it was the closest the Mustangs would get. The Tigers pulled back in front quickly, going on a 15-2 run to end the half.
Brewton had his fifth 3-pointer of the half during the run and Thornton added another.
Memphis shot 47.1 percent in the opening half and had assists on 14 of their 16 baskets. Martin had six first-half assists to lead the Tigers.
The Tigers resume conference play Thursday at Temple.
Tigers guard Kareem Brewton had 15 points at halftime (all on 3-pointers) to lead the team. He finished with six 3-pointers, two more than his previous career high.
Memphis had struggled with assists during the past month, but had 14 in the first half and a season-high 24 for the game. The Tigers committed only 12 turnovers.
The Tigers are more than 20 assists in a game for the first time since their Dec. 29 victory over Florida A&M, when they dished out 22.
Raynere Thornton recorded his first double-double of the season and second of his career with 11 points and 14 rebounds.
Jeremiah Martin’s 11 assists tied his career high.
The Tigers improved to 4-1 in the American Athletic Conference. It is the program’s first 4-1 conference start in the six-year history of the American Athletic Conference.
After allowing at least 18 offensive rebounds in the past three games, the Tigers allowed only 12 to SMU.