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VOL. 133 | NO. 40 | Friday, February 23, 2018

Tigers Stun No. 23 Houston 91-85

Jeremiah Martin leaves game with injured foot

By Don Wade

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By all rights, this wasn’t going to be the night the University of Memphis got a signature win over a Top-25 team. Jeremiah Martin, the Tigers’ best player and the leading scorer in the American Athletic Conference, went down with a foot injury in the first half.

And at one stretch during that first half Thursday night at FedExForum, the Tigers gave up an 18-2 run to No. 23 Houston. They faced a 43-30 deficit with 1:15 left before halftime and were on the verge of getting taken out of the game.

But then the improbable – some would say impossible – happened. The Tigers ended the first half with a 7-0 run, outscored the Cougars by 12 in the second half as they shot lights out, and held on for a 91-85 victory.

Heroes came from everywhere. Jimario Rivers scored 21 points with nine rebounds and Raynere Thornton finished with 21 points off the bench while hitting 4-of-5 from deep.

Perhaps the most unlikely contributor was guard Malik Rhodes, who had been suspended earlier in the season and until knocking down an off-the-dribble triple in the second half (seven points, three assists) had not scored since Jan. 16.

And yes, from coach Tubby Smith on down, the Tigers (17-11, 8-7) have been aware of their doubters.

“They can keep doubting,” Rivers said. “We’re just gonna keep playing basketball. We’re not gonna worry what people say. We know how good we are and how good we can be.”

Smith called it a “great win” and said players responded to not having Martin by raising their intensity and their level of play.

Obviously, the major concern moving forward is Martin’s health. He was on the bench in a walking boot in the second half. Smith said the foot was at least sprained and that Martin would get an MRI on Friday.

Playing without Martin the entire second half the Tigers shot 60.9 percent from the floor and hit 4-of-8 threes; they made 10-of-19 threes for the game for 52.6 percent. The normally sharpshooting Cougars converted on 11-of-29 threes for 37.9 percent and shot just 32.3 percent from the floor in the second half, and made only 4-of-15 from behind the arc in the second half for 26.7 percent.

Houston (21-6, 11-4) got a game-high 30 points with a game-best seven assists from guard Rob Gray. Meantime, the Tigers also raised their level at the free-throw line by hitting 29-of-36 for 80.6 percent. They also almost matched Houston on the glass, trailing just 33-31 in rebounds.

“We didn’t lose this game,” said Houston coach Kelvin Sampson. “Memphis beat us. The tougher team won today.”

For the Tigers, it was their third straight win after losing five of six. During that stretch, there were a lot of arrows directed Smith’s way via social media and sports talk radio. He seemed to be well aware of that Thursday night when the line of questioning centered on how good this win must feel and the challenge of building on it to hold the critics at bay.

He rejected the notion that the win brought him “joy,” saying that was a “big word” and is a better description of what he feels when he spends time with this grandchildren.

“But I’m happy tonight,” he said.

Later, Smith added to the sentiment he did not need validation from outside the program: “I’m secure in who I am, pretty damn successful in what I do.”

From the players’ side, the feeling was that this was a victory they could build on, a game that showed what’s possible.

“We always knew we could do it,” Rhodes said of beating a ranked team. “This solidifies it for us.”


Both Sampson and Smith got technical fouls Thursday night. It was Smith’s first in his two seasons at Memphis and first overall since 2015. “First in a long time,” Smith said, adding that he referenced bull fertilizer and later apologized for his remark.

The victory for Memphis was the first over a ranked opponent since beating South Carolina early last season when the Gamecocks were No. 25 in the coaches’ poll.

Houston was ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since the 1983-84 season, but likely will drop from the rankings next week.

The Tigers’ bench outscored Houston’s reserves 35-29 despite the Cougars’ Amoni Brooks scoring 15 points on five made treys.

The Tigers next play at UConn at 3 p.m. Sunday. The game will be carried by ESPN.

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