Memphis readies for battle-tested Western Kentucky

NCAA Basketball

Count the first of three tests on the road to a national ranking a success for Memphis.

Memphis opened its season Wednesday with a convincing victory in the quarterfinals of the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, S.D.

After topping Saint Mary’s 73-56, next up is a Thanksgiving afternoon matchup with another resume-armed mid-major in Western Kentucky (1-0), which outlasted Northern Iowa, 93-87.

Memphis fell just shy of a preseason Top 25 ranking, with roster changes creating some uncertainty about just how good the Tigers would be. A one-game snapshot showed that Memphis has serious potential.

Boogie Ellis scored 20 of his career-high 24 points in the first half and highly-touted freshman Moussa Cisse had 10 points and seven rebounds in his debut. Ellis made 6 of 7 3-point attempts, including one from just inside half court that went down as the halftime buzzer sounded.

Memphis’ defense held Saint Mary’s to 33.9 percent shooting (20 of 59).

“We are trying to be the No. 1 team in the country in opponent field goal percentage,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. “… For the most part, I am proud of the defense in holding that team to 56 points with the way they like to play. We want to be the best defensive team in the country for sure.”

That defense will be put to the test against Western Kentucky.

The Hilltoppers shot 46.2 percent (30 of 65) from the field against Northern Iowa and earned 31 free-throw attempts, making 27. The Hilltoppers are one of 44 programs in the country with 20 or more victories in each of the past three seasons.

Senior guard Taveion Hollingsworth, a preseason All-Conference USA selection, had 26 points for Western Kentucky, while junior center Charles Bassey, who is on the Naismith Player of the Year watchlist, had 11 points and eight rebounds.

Bassey was playing for the first time since breaking his tibia in a game against Arkansas in December 2019 and undergoing surgery.

“After my injury I was written off and I’m just going to have to show my game,” Bassey said. “I have to show people that after my injury this is who I am. Just play my game and do what I have to do on and off the floor.”

–Field Level Media

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