Orlando, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - The opening round of the Old Spice Classic continues on Thursday evening, as the 21st-ranked Memphis Tigers clash with the Siena Saints at HP Field House.
The winner will take on either LSU or Saint Joseph's in Friday's semifinals, while the losers will play in the consolation round.
After playing just three games over the first three weeks of the season, Memphis is set to play that many tilts over the course of the long holiday weekend. The Tigers easily defeated lesser foes Austin Peay (95-69) and Nicholls State (98-59) in the early going, although they failed their first big test in losing big at nationally-ranked Oklahoma State on Nov. 19, 101-80.
Siena had been winners of back-to-back games against St. Bonaventure (72-70) and Cornell (71-70) prior to its preliminary-round matchup at Purdue last Sunday, which it fought hard in but ultimately lost, 81-73. The Saints are now just 2-4 on the season and won't return to their home court until late December.
Memphis won the most recent bout with Siena, 102-58, in January of 2008 to pull even in the all-time series at 1-1.
The Tigers breezed by Nicholls State the last time out by shooting 52.5 percent from the field, and while they went just 62 percent from the foul line, they attempted a whopping 50 free throws. Austin Nichols paced the high- scoring attack with 20 points, while Joe Jackson (18 points) was nearly automatic from the charity stripe at 14-of-15. Michael Dixon (16 points) and Nick King (12 points) both had solid showings off the bench, and Chris Crawford added 11 points to the balanced effort. On the season, Memphis has lit up the scoreboard with relative ease by making field goals at a 49 percent clip for 91.0 points per game, and the deep bench has six players score at least 9.3 points per game and nine players at least 5.0 points per tilt. Despite coming off the bench in all three games, Nick King (16.0 ppg) is the leading scorer, although his average could be even higher if he improves upon his dreadful free-throw percentage (.480). Jackson (13.3 ppg), Dixon (12.7 ppg) and Nichols (11.0 ppg) also score in double figures.
The Saints did their best to upset Purdue on the road, as they kept the game within single-digits for much of the afternoon, but they ultimately couldn't overcome a 39.4 percent shooting effort, which included just a 1-of-10 showing from 3-point range. Evan Hymes was the catalyst in the setback with 18 points and five assists. Brett Bisping (16 points, eight rebounds, three blocks) and Rob Poole (12 points, 11 rebounds) were both impressive in the paint, while Marquis Wright chipped in 10 points and five assists. As its record would indicate, Siena's start to the season has not been great shooting-wise, as it makes less than 41 percent of its field goal tries for 69.7 points per game, nearly six points less than it allows. Poole (15.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg) is one of the few Saints off to a strong start. Hymes adds 10.8 points per game, but does so on just 38.2 percent shooting.