Freshmen guide No. 12 Memphis into matchup with NC Central

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Memphis and its pair of highly touted freshmen have their sights set on making a run in the NCAA Tournament this season.

The 12th-ranked Tigers will try to build off an opening-night victory when they host North Carolina Central on Saturday night in the second game of a four-game, season-opening homestand.

The first act went smoothly on Tuesday night as Memphis secured a relatively comfortable 89-65 home win over Tennessee Tech.

Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren, the prized recruits who were both ranked among the top 10 prospects in the nation last season, showed off their talents immediately in their collegiate debuts.

Bates, a 6-foot-9 forward from Ypsilanti, Mich., led Memphis with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 4-of-7 success from 3-point range. He added four rebounds and four assists.

Duren, a 6-11 center from Sharon Hill, Pa., totaled 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting and collected six rebounds.

Duren also made an impact on the defensive end with five blocked shots during his 31 minutes on the court.

“I take a lot of pride in defense, especially coming to play for Coach Penny (Hardaway),” Duren said. “He expects me to change shots at the rim a lot, so I (will) focus on that.”

Memphis used a 10-0 run to start the second half to pull away and finished with 21 assists, led by Bates and DeAndre Williams, who had four each.

The frontcourt of Duren and Williams allowed Memphis to shoot 59.3 percent from the floor as the latter finished with 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting.

After the game, Williams expressed his excitement about the potential of the duo inside.

“The sky’s the limit,” Williams said. “We’re just going to keep getting better each game. We are learning each other on and off the court, just building that chemistry, that bond. I just feel like we’re going to keep elevating throughout the season.”

Things didn’t go as smoothly for North Carolina Central, which dropped its opener 70-60 at Richmond on Tuesday night. The Eagles are coming off a 5-9 season during a 2020-21 slate that was shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There were bright spots, though. Alex Caldwell led North Carolina Central with 17 points and six rebounds, hitting all four of his 3-point attempts, while Marque Maultsby finished with 11 points.

LeVelle Moton is now in his 13th season coaching the Eagles and has led them to four MEAC regular-season titles and four MEAC tournament titles, including a stretch of three consecutive NCAA Tournament berths from 2017 to 2019.

However, this season figures to be one of his biggest challenges, as his team returned just three players from last season, including Caldwell, and added six transfers after losing 10 players themselves to the portal.

North Carolina Central was picked to finish third in the MEAC this season.

“It don’t matter where you start in this league,” Moton said before his team’s opener. “It matters where you finish. And truth be told, at the end of the day, no one remembers the preseason projections. It’s only going to be one team standing.”

–Field Level Media

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