In assessing season openers, head coaches put their concerns about winning into the context of how the team’s players handle their business the first time out.
Take a listen to the University of Memphis’ Penny Hardaway after the Tigers pounded Saint Mary’s Gaels 73-56 in South Dakota on Wednesday.
“First of all, I’m very proud of our team,” said Hardaway. “Saint Mary’s is a really well-coached team, a disciplined-team. For this being our first game out of the gate, it was a pretty special game because we didn’t do everything perfect.
“But we played really hard, played for each other, did some great things out there and ended up beating a really good team,” he said. “We didn’t do everything perfect, but we played very hard.”
With the victory secured, the Tigers move on to the next step of the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls. That means an 11 a.m. (CDT) matchup on Thanksgiving against Western Kentucky on ESPN.
Defense is key
After getting off to a slow start defensively, Memphis freshman Moussa Cisse was replaced by Malcolm Dandridge, who contributed two crucial blocks to spearhead the Tigers’ offensive charge.
The UofM finished with 7 blocks, including the pair by Cisse. The Gaels were forced to alter their shots often throughout the game and trailed 43-26 at the half.
Memphis had one of the best defenses in all of college basketball last season. With the addition of Cisse and a healthy Dandridge, who has recovered from last season’s knee injury, it seems the possibility of being even better this season is a real deal.
Four Tigers scored in double digits, including starters Cisse (10 points) and Landers Nolley II (11 points). Damion Bought came off the bench to get his 10 points, as did Boogie Ellis, who poured in 24.
The point total was a career high for Ellis, who connected on 6 of 7 shoots from three-point range,
Ellis started every game he played last season.
“Boogie is a competitor,” said Hardaway. “I don’t think he has ever come off the bench in his life. I know the role that he is going to star in, and I was pretty sure he was going to do what he did today. I told him this morning at breakfast that if he didn’t get 15 points, I was going to be highly upset.”
Ellis is adapting, Hardaway said. “He embraced it, came into the game and ended up finishing the game.”
Entering the game from the bench “didn’t really affect me,” Ellis said.
“Coming into the game, I just embraced my role and Coach was telling me great players impact the game no matter if they are starting or coming off the bench. …I just wanted to play basketball.”
Memphis’ offense was more inconsistent in the second half. The Gaels cut the lead to 10 points, but when Memphis needed that extra push from the defense, they got it.
In addition to his 10 points, Cisse finished with 7 rebounds and 2 blocks, helping to seal up the middle of the defense. Game experience should help the 6-9, 200-pound power forward.
Nolley, a 6-foot-7 guard/forward transfer from Virginia Tech, had an off-day shooting, going 5 for 12 and only 1 of 3 from three-point range. He took some good shots; they just did not fall.