According to Memphis coach Penny Hardaway, the kids might be about to sit at the grown-ups table.
Hardaway said the Tigers’ 83-78 Thanksgiving win over North Carolina State in Brooklyn was the program’s best vicitory since he became the coach before last season. They’ll look to build on that performance Tuesday night when Bradley visits FedEx Forum for a nonconference tussle in Memphis, Tenn.
No. 15 Memphis canned 51.9 percent of its shots against its Atlantic Coast Conference foe and earned a 39-26 rebounding advantage. It led by 20 points early in the second half and held off a big run by the Wolfpack to up its record to 6-1.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my team,” Hardaway said. “We were well-prepared. After the Oregon game (a loss in Portland on Nov. 12) we grew up. After the Ole Miss game (a win the following week), we grew up. And today, we grew up even more.”
Freshman guard Boogie Ellis scored 21 points for the Tigers, while another freshman, forward Precious Achiuwa, registered his third straight double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Tyler Harris added 14 points, including a critical three-point play with 38 seconds left for a six-point lead.
Hardaway saluted Harris’ gumption.
“He was built for moments like this,” Hardaway said. “I really believe in Tyler Harris. He made a big basket down the stretch.”
It was the type of well-rounded effort Memphis needs without its best player, 7-foot-1 freshman James Wiseman, who remains on NCAA suspension until a Jan. 12 date at South Florida. Wiseman will sit out the fifth game of his 12-game ban on Tuesday night.
Achiuwa is the team’s top scorer with Wiseman on the shelf, averaging 15.0 points and 8.7 rebounds. D.J. Jeffries scores 12.6 points per game and Lester Quinones is hitting for an average of 10.3.
Wiseman, Quinones, Achiuwa and Ellis have all been selected the American Athletic Conference’s Freshman of the Week.
Bradley (5-2) is coming off one of its biggest wins under fifth-year coach Brian Wardle, stopping Kansas State 73-60 on Wednesday in the Fort Myers Tip-Off. The Braves shot brilliantly, canning 50 percent from the field and a white-hot 13 of 23 from the 3-point stripe.
Nate Kennell went 6 of 8 from beyond the arc and led all scorers with 22 points, while Darrell Brown added 16. Bradley also outrebounded its Big 12 opponent 37-30.
“To beat Kansas State, who I thought was the best team coming into this tournament, it’s a good win for this program and another good win for the Valley,” Wardle said to the Peoria (Ill.) Journal-Star. “It shows that playing our league on a neutral floor, anything can happen.”
This will be the 21st meeting between the programs, which are former Missouri Valley Conference rivals. The Tigers lead the series 11-9, including a 2006 win in the Sweet 16.
Bradley enters on a 19-game losing streak against ranked teams, with its last such win coming against No. 18 Northern Iowa in 2010.
–Field Level Media