LAHAINA, Hawaii — One of the strongest players in Tennessee men’s basketball history put the team on his broad shoulders Tuesday afternoon.
Junior power forward Jeronne Maymon, 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds, scored a career-high 32 points and pulled down an EA Sports Maui Invitational-record 20 rebounds in an epic double-overtime thriller against No. 8 Memphis.
The Tigers prevailed 99-97 when Maymon’s final shot attempt, a 15-foot turnaround, fell short at the buzzer before a sellout crowd of 2,400 at Lahaina Civic Center.
The Vols (2-2) finish the tournament at 2:30 p.m. today (TV: ESPNU) against Division II Chaminade (2-2), which lost 88-61 to Georgetown on Tuesday.
Maymon’s heroic performance — he’s the first UT player with 30 points, and 20 rebounds since Steve Hamer had 31 and 21 against Alabama in the 1996 SEC tournament — is sure to make him more of a focal point.
But to hear Maymon tell it, Tuesday’s performance was just a matter of following directions.
“I was out there trying to stop my man, play help defense, rebound or score and help my team,’’ said Maymon, who with bench presses of close to 400 pounds and squats near 500 tops UT strength coach Troy Wills’ charts. “We’re going to accept our roles and go in whatever direction Coach (Cuonzo) Martin take us.
“My body is built for that type of physical play, so I’m not going to shy away from it.’’
Maymon and his teammates didn’t flinch against Memphis (2-1), even after falling behind by as many as 16 points.
With the Tigers up 55-45 at halftime, Martin told his team there was plenty of time.
“We talk about walking them down, one possession at a time, and that’s what we did to send the game to overtime,’’ said Martin, whose team will get a rematch in Memphis on Jan. 4. “Jeronne was tremendous, attacking off the dribble, very aggressive, and most importantly making his free throws.’’
Maymon was 16-of-17 from the free-throw line, but his biggest make came on a drive with 5.2 seconds that capped the comeback and sent the game into the first overtime tied at 83.
“Even when we were down, I didn’t think we were going to lose,’’ said UT point guard Trae Golden, who scored 14 points on 3-of-19 shooting and had seven assists. “Jeronne was the best player on the floor today, by far.’’
Maymon was a two-time Wisconsin high school Player of the Year before signing with Marquette and transferring to UT in December of 2009. But many, including Memphis coach Josh Pastner, didn’t know how to pronounce his name.
“I’m really bad with names, so, I mean, the kid No. 34 (Maymon) is just a stud,’’ Pastner said after his team won the first overtime affair in the teams’ 23-game history. “He played really well. That’s a top-25 team.’’
The Tigers, led by brothers Will Barton (25 points) and Antonio Barton (21 points), and Adonis Thomas (19 points), proved worthy of their top-10 status. Memphis recovered after UT took its largest lead of the game, 87-83, in the first overtime on a Maymon put-back.
In a contest filled with whistles (53 fouls), collisions and contested calls, it was only fitting one overtime wasn’t enough to separate the rivals.
The Vols had two inbounds opportunities in the final 3.1 seconds of the second and decisive overtime.
On the first, freshman Josh Richardson attempted to pass the ball to Golden under the basket with 3.1 seconds left. The ball squirted out and Memphis’ Wesley Witherspoon scooped it up and ran toward his team bench in celebration.
Lost amid the crowd noise was a whistle; the officials called a travel before going to replay to reset the clock.
With 0.8 seconds left, UT’s Cameron Tatum looked to pass the ball in to Golden before triggering to Maymon, who spun and released a shot that fell short.
It wasn’t the storybook ending the Vols sought, but at the very least UT proved its mettle after Memphis had pulled away with a 16-0 first-half run.
Seven lead changes and seven ties in the opening minutes gave way to the Memphis splurge, which started innocently enough when Will Barton split a pair of free throws at the 11:01 mark to put the Tigers up 25-24.
The Lahaina Civic Center transformed into FedEx Forum West for the next 3 ½ minutes. The Tigers’ fans grew louder by the second, delivering confidence and energy to their players.
Memphis hit five of its next seven shots, including three 3-pointers, while UT missed six consecutive shots.
Antonio Barton capped the run with a 3-pointer that gave Memphis a 40-24 lead at the 7:38 mark.
UT didn’t pull even again until Maymon’s game-tying drive at the end of regulation.
“Sometimes, it’s not going to go in our favor, but I’m pretty sure down the road we’re going to win some big games because of how hard we work,’’ Maymon said. “We all grew up today.’’
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32