SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Boogie Ellis led all scorers with a career-high 24 points, including 20 in the first half, to lead Memphis to an impressive 73-56 win over Saint Mary’s in the opening game of the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic at the Sanford Pentagon in the season opener for both teams. Ellis made a career-high-tying six 3-pointers.
Ellis, whose previous career-high was 22 points vs. UIC in the second game of last season, scored nearly half of the Tigers’ first half points as Memphis led 43-26 at intermission. In the opening half, Ellis made all but one of his eight shots, including a perfect 5-of-5 from 3-point range that featured a steal and half-court shot just before the halftime buzzer.
“First of all, I’m very proud of our team,” said head coach Penny 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. We didn’t do everything perfect, but we played very hard.”
After Saint Mary’s scored the game’s first eight points, Memphis outscored the Gaels 43-18 the rest of the half. Memphis, which missed its first six shots from the field, didn’t score until Ellis split a pair of free throws just under four minutes in. The Tigers didn’t make a field goal until Ellis’ bucket at the 15:25 mark.
Ellis scored the Tigers’ first six points of the game. With Memphis trailing 14-8, the Tigers went on an 18-2 run to go up 26-16. Freshman Moussa Cisse’s put-back gave the Tigers their first lead at 15-14 with 10:26 left. The Tigers’ defense forced the Gaels to miss 16-of-17 shots during the decisive run.
“We are trying to be the No. 1 team in the country in opponent field goal percentage,” said Hardaway. “That is something that we want to be at the very top in every year. For the most part, I am proud of the defense in holding that team to 56 points with the way they like to play, that says a lot. We want to be the best defensive team in the country for sure.”
Ellis finished the game shooting 8-of-13 from the floor, including 6-of-7 from 3-point range. His only miss from behind the arc came with 50 seconds to play.
“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,” said Ellis. “It didn’t really affect me. I just wanted to play basketball.”
Cisse’s layup to open the second half gave Memphis its largest lead at 45-26, but a 20-11 Saint Mary’s run closed the Gaels to within 56-46 with eight minutes to play. That was as close as Saint Mary’s would get.
“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.
“He definitely surpassed that because he can score the ball. He got 24. He’s adapting. He embraced it, came into the game and ended up finishing the game.”
Three other Tigers scored in double-figures as sophomore Landers Nolley II had 11 points in his Memphis debut after transferring from Virginia Tech. Cisse totaled 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in his collegiate debut while sophomore Damion Baugh added 10 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals. Lance Thomas fouled out with eight points and three rebounds in 17 minutes. D.J. Jeffries tied a career-high with nine rebounds.
“Just like Coach Penny said, Moussa had 10 and 7,” said Baugh. “That’s his first game, and that is big. He played great on the offensive and defensive end.”
Matthias Tass led Saint Mary’s with 15 points and six rebounds.
Memphis outshot Saint Mary’s 43.3 percent to 33.9 percent from the floor and 43.8 percent (7-of-16) to 5.6 percent (1-of-18) from 3-point range. The Tigers were 6-of-13 from the foul line (.615) to the Gaels 15-of-21 (.750).
The Tigers enjoyed a 42-9 advantage in bench points and had a 17-0 edge in points off turnovers before finishing with a 17-10 edge.
Memphis will play in the semifinals of the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic against the Western Kentucky-Northern Iowa winner on Thanksgiving at 11 a.m. CT on ESPN. The Tigers will play in Friday’s final round either in the championship game at 12:30 p.m. on ESPN or the third-place game at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.
The other two first-round games are No. 15 West Virginia vs. South Dakota State at 6 p.m. and Utah State vs. VCU at 8:30 p.m. Both games are on ESPN2.
Photo credit: Memphis’ Boogie Ellis drives past Logan Johnson of Saint Mary’s during the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic 1st round at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D. (photo by Dave Eggen/Inertia)