Jalen Duren had his best all-round game for the University of Memphis Tigers, who needed every positive play he could muster to beat the troublesome Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.
The 74-62 victory last Friday (Nov 19) at FedExForum positioned Memphis to take a 4-0 mark with them as they head for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY., where they take the court against Virginia Tech on Wednesday (Nov. 23).
Down as many as 10 points in the first half (29-19), the Tigers chipped away to tie the game at 38 by halftime. Overcoming 26 total turnovers, Memphis manufactured a double-digit win that prompted head coach Penny Hardaway to say, “I am thankful for a game like this before we go on the road. I think the guys have gotten a little complacent.”
Duren scored 22 points, grabbed 19 rebounds and blocked five shots on his birthday. An absolute deterrent on the defensive end, he forced Western Kentucky’s Hilltoppers to adjust a slew of shots.
“Jalen made up for everything (bad) that happened tonight,” said Hardaway. “He had opportunities to get second shots. He had that no-lose attitude all night.”
Asked what the Tigers learned in beating Western Kentucky, Duren said, “Not to take any team for grant. Our season is not going to be easy. There are a lot of teams that want to beat us. We just have to stay on top of it.”
The Hilltoppers’ head coach Rich Stansbury built Western Kentucky’s game plan around neutralizing dangerous Memphis guard Emoni Bates, playing him one on one, employing a zone defense to keep him off the free throw line and forcing him to rely upon jump shooting.
In his worse outing of the season, Bates, who has been a double-digit scorer, managed only five points.
“The only person that can take Emoni out of a game is Emoni,” Hardaway said. “It got into his head being in a zone. We did not do a good job of moving the ball to get him open looks. He is one of the best shooters in the country.”
The Hilltoppers contributed to their own demise with 25 turnovers and seriously poor shooting of free throws.
“They made us self-inflict too many times,” Western Kentucky head coach Rick Stansbury. “You can point to a couple of things, turnovers and missed free throws. All that came from fatigue. You can’t go 5 for 13 from the foul line. Those kind of things take the air from you.
“I am proud of how our guys came in here and battled. We just played one of the better teams in the country. We were right there.”
Problematic for the Hilltoppers was that when they got into the paint, Duren often was there.
“I just try to be a presence on every shot,” said Duren. “When I see a guy coming into the lane I just challenge it. If I block it, I block it. Playing for Penny, a defensive mined coach … he just makes you lock in that much more. That just gets my mind locked in.”
So how does he feel about coming up one rebound shy of a double-digit double-double?
Said Duren: “We won!”