CINCINNATI – Jeremiah Martin impressed University of Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin with a gutsy, 28-point effort that nearly was enough, but the University of Memphis dropped a 71-69 decision Saturday night at Fifth Third Arena.
In addition to Martin, the Tigers got 14 points and a team-leading seven rebounds from Isaiah Maurice.
The Tigers (18-12, 10-7 The American) had an opportunity to tie – or win – the game on their final possession, but turned the ball over on an errant pass in the closing seconds.
Cincinnati (25-4, 14-2 The American) got 26 points from Jarron Cumberland in the victory, its 25t h straight league home victory.
“We let one slip away, but we’ll be all right,” Martin said.
The Tigers trailed by eight (68-60) with 2:21 to go, but got two layups by Maurice and a 3-pointer and a layup from Martin in the final minutes to create a dramatic situation.
Memphis shot 48 percent and held the Bearcats to 39 percent shooting. The Bearcats shot 36 free throws to 10 for the Tigers. Cincinnati out-rebounded the Tigers, 38-31 with 16 of those coming on the offensive boards.
“It was a definite opportunity for us,” said Tigers coach Penny Hardaway. “We spotted them too many points early and we had to fight, fight, fight.”
Cronin was impressed with what he saw from the Tigers.
“I think Memphis will probably be favored to win the conference tournament the way they are playing,” Cronin said. “And it’s amazing the way Jeremiah Martin is playing. He is playing like Nick Van Exel.”
Memphis opened the second half with four empty possessions – two missed shots, two turnovers – and the Bearcats built a nine-point lead. Kareem Brewton Jr. converted a three-point play for the UofM’s only points before the first media timeout.
But the Tigers kept battling. By the second media timeout, the UofM had trimmed the lead to four (45-41) following layups by Raynere Thornton, Kyvon Davenport and Brewton.
Cumberland, a candidate for league player of the year, took over during the next four minutes. He scored seven points, including a 3-pointer that gave UC a 56-48 lead with about nine minutes to go.
The Tigers trailed by only five (61-56) following a 3-pointer by Martin with 4:47 left. And when Cincinnati pushed back ahead by eight (64-56), Memphis responded again to keep the Bearcats’ lead under double digits. Two free throws by Martin with 2:56 left made it a 66-60 game.
At the half, the Tigers trailed by five (37-32) at the half, despite being out-rebounded, 21-13, and committing nine turnovers. Memphis trailed by 10 on several occasions in the first 20 minutes, but never allowed the Cincinnati lead to be extended further.
Cincinnati led, 37-27, with a minute left following a 3-pointer by Justin Jenifer, but the Tigers closed on a 5-0 run. Maurice worked inside for another layup and Antwann Jones ended the half with a 3-pointer from the right corner.
Maurice had 10 points in first half and Jones had four assists.
The Tigers overcame allowing 10 offensive boards in the first half. Cincinnati was able to take advantage of the Memphis turnovers, converting them into 14 points.
Memphis returns home March 9 to finish the regular season in an 8:30 p.m. game at FedExForum. The conference tournament – also played at FedExForum – will follow starting March 14.