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5 things we learned as Memphis basketball comes up short vs Western Kentucky, 75-69

Commercial Appeal Memphis logo Commercial Appeal Memphis 11/26/2020 Jason Munz, Memphis Commercial Appeal
SIOUX FALLS, SD - NOVEMBER 26: Josh Anderson #4 of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers is fouled while going to the basket by Landers Nolley II #3 of the Memphis Tigers during the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, SD. (Photo by Dave Eggen/Inertia) © Dave Eggen/Inertia, Dave Eggen/Inertia SIOUX FALLS, SD - NOVEMBER 26: Josh Anderson #4 of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers is fouled while going to the basket by Landers Nolley II #3 of the Memphis Tigers during the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, SD. (Photo by Dave Eggen/Inertia)

Landers Nolley II was cooking on Thanksgiving Day.  

However, the 25-point spark he gave Memphis (1-1) wasn’t enough to overcome Western Kentucky (2-0) and Charles Bassey, who put up 21 points and 14 rebounds – to go along with 7 blocks –  for a 75-69 victory at the Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Thursday. The Tigers will play in a consolation game at 8 p.m. Friday against either West Virginia or VCU.

WKU stayed in the game early, trailing only 35-34 at halftime, thanks largely to its 3-point shooting. The Hilltoppers (a late replacement, after a member of the original field dropped out) were 6-of-14 from long range in the first half and 8 for 21 in the game.

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“It was a tough game, man, because we came out with so much energy,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. “We jumped on them and had an opportunity to keep them there and just didn’t.”

Nolley’s 17 first-half points and the Tigers’ late rally weren’t enough to overcome Bassey and the Hilltoppers’ dominant rebounding.

Here are five takeaways from the loss to WKU.

Nolley emerges

Boogie Ellis made the first-half splash for Memphis in Wednesday’s win over Saint Mary’s.

It was Nolley’s turn Thursday. The Virginia Tech transfer put together an up-and-down showing in his Tigers debut, scoring 11 points on 5-of-12 shooting from the field. But, against WKU, the sophomore wing was more impactful.

Nolley scored 17 points in the first half on his way to a 25-point performance to go along with four assists and two rebounds. His final 3-pointer with 5.4 seconds left in the game, cut the deficit to 71-69.

"He did what he does every day, he makes shots," Hardaway said. "That's what we need from him. He didn't shoot it well the first game. He shot it better this game." 

Ellis provided the Tigers 14 points. 

Battle of the bigs

The game featured an intriguing battle of two imposing big men: Tigers freshman Moussa Cisse and Hilltoppers junior Bassey.

The former five-star recruits went toe-to-toe in the early going, but Bassey pulled away as the game wore on. The 6-foot-11 Bassey’s double-double included 21 points and 14 rebounds. He also collected 7 blocks.

Meanwhile, the 6-9 Cisse was relatively quiet in his second collegiate outing: 6 points, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks.

Tough day on the glass

Led by Bassey’s effort, WKU dominated the boards.

The Hilltoppers hauled in 44 rebounds, compared to just 32 for Memphis. Behind Bassey, Carson Williams collected nine in the winning effort.

WKU took care of business on the offensive glass, as well, outdoing the Tigers 11-9.

The Hilltoppers capitalized on their success on the offensive boards, as well, outscoring Memphis 12-10 in second-chance points.

More dominant defense

The Tigers showed against Saint Mary’s they weren’t going to let last season’s defensive prowess turn out to be a fluke.

Despite the loss to the Hilltoppers, Memphis put more of its suffocating defense on display. In the first half, the Tigers held WKU scoreless for 7 minutes, 38 seconds of game time. During that span, Memphis went on a 10-0 run.

WKU weathered the early drought, though, and went on to finish the game shooting 44.4% from the field.

Jeffries slow out of the gate

Expectations are high for D.J. Jeffries in his second season at Memphis.

The sophomore wing, who missed the final 12 games of his freshman season due to a left knee injury, was named to the Julius Erving Award watch list (which goes to the nation’s best small forward) and was a preseason all-AAC second team selection.

Through two games, though, Jeffries has scuffled. The former Olive Branch (Miss.) star scored 4 points against Saint Mary’s on 2-of-10 shooting. He didn’t fare much better against WKU: 3 for 9 from the field for 6 points.

Reach sports writer Jason Munz at jason.munz@commercialappeal.com or on Twitter @munzly.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: 5 things we learned as Memphis basketball comes up short vs Western Kentucky, 75-69

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