No. 11 Memphis eyes 4-0 start, hosts Western Kentucky

·3 min read

Memphis could have been content to let its size and length cause opponents problems to open the season, yet the No. 11 Tigers are showing they can take things to an elite level with an abundance of energy as well.

Memphis (3-0) has used its high motor to race to an undefeated start. The Tigers will put that perfect mark to the test Friday with a nonconference visit from Western Kentucky.

The Tigers opened the season with easy victories over Tennessee Tech and North Carolina Central before stepping up in class Tuesday with a visit from Saint Louis. So, the Tigers found another gear in a 90-74 victory that included 14 blocked shots to go along with heavy defensive pressure.

It was tied for the second most rejections in a game in program history, just one off the high mark of 15 set three times. Jalen Duren had six of those blocks by himself, tied for second most by a freshman in a game this season.

"I think we're the second tallest team in the NCAA so we're using our length," Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway said. "I'm definitely proud of the guys for rim protecting."

Memphis did commit 24 turnovers Tuesday, giving the team plenty to work on in advance of Western Kentucky's visit. The Tigers also saw the Billikens come away with 23 offensive rebounds.

"I feel like we have to take what the defense gives us," said guard Tyler Harris, who led the Tigers with 18 points against Saint Louis. "I feel like sometimes we want to open up things and make the next play and that kind of messes us up a lot of times."

Emoni Bates added 16 points against Saint Louis, while Duren had 13 and Landers Nolley II had 10 rebounds. Bates leads the team with 16.0 points per game, while Duren scores 12.7 per game with a team-leading 8.0 rebounds.

Memphis showed its ability to close out opponents, shooting 60.0 percent in the second half to finish at 54.4 for the game. But the Tigers were just 60.6 percent from the free-throw line.

Western Kentucky (1-2) is coming off consecutive losses at the Asheville (N.C.) Championship, falling 73-69 to Minnesota of the Big Ten on Friday and 75-64 to South Carolina of the SEC on Sunday. Now comes a visit to an American Athletic Conference foe.

The Hilltoppers trailed 24-13 just over 14 minutes into the game against South Carolina but rallied to tie it at 35-all with 17:11 remaining. It was all Gamecocks from there after a 14-4 run.

"... Give our guys credit, coming out of the locker room being down seven. We fought back and tied the game up," Western Kentucky head coach Rick Stansbury said. "There's lots of things we can get better at, lots of things we can learn from. We didn't win either game, but I can take some positive things from this to build on moving forward."

Josh Anderson had 16 points for the Hilltoppers in Sunday's game, while Jairus Hamilton had 13 points. Dayvion McKnight was held to 11 points, but leads the team with 21.3 points per game, as well as 6.7 rebounds. He scored a career-high 34 against Minnesota.

--Field Level Media