ECU Opens C-USA Play At Memphis Saturday
Jan. 7, 2011
East Carolina closed out its non-conference schedule with a road victory over North Carolina Central on Monday, now the Pirates will look to make it back-to-back road wins Saturday as they begin their 10th season of Conference USA play against perennial champion Memphis.
Memphis (11-3) needed a late surge to put away unheralded Tennessee State 91-86 on Sunday, and its struggles carried over to a 104-84 loss at Tennessee on Wednesday.
The Tigers allowed both opponents to shoot at least 50.0 percent and make 12 attempts from 3-point range apiece. Tennessee connected at a 53.7 percent clip while handing Memphis its worst loss since an 84-61 defeat to Maryland on Nov. 26, 2004.
"It's a tough one for us to start out with," Pirate coach Jeff Lebo said. "We've played four in a row on the road and now we get to go against a very talented and nationally-ranked team. They are awfully tough to beat, but our kids are looking forward to playing in that environment.
Despite shooting a woeful 33.3 percent Monday night, ECU (8-6) used its defensive pressure to limit NCCU to just 30 percent shooting, holding the Eagles to just two field goals in the final 10 minutes while forcing xxx turnovers. The Pirates trailed by eight early in the second half but used a 12-4 to tie the game at 38. Sophomore Corvonn Gaines' 3-pointer put the Pirates ahead to stay with 4:54 left as they ended the game on an 11-3 run.
While ECU was able to put together a pair of runs to win, Memphis (11-3) was unable to stop any of Tennessee's scoring spurts, particularly in the first half. The Tigers trailed 14-10 before the Volunteers put together a 31-10 to take a 25-point lead with under four minutes left in the first half.
The Tigers struggled from the field (30-of-65) and the charity stripe (14-of-26) and committed 16 turnovers leading to 23 Tennessee points and allowed the Volunteers to score 19 in transition.
While it was just their third setback of the season it was their first to an unranked opponent. And although they have struggled at home this season, the Tigers are 11-2 at the FedExForum, a place the Pirates have never won.
"We are going to be playing against one of the most athletic teams we've played," Lebo said. "They don't have the experience, but they have the ability to run and get a lot of transition baskets of your mistakes. We can't go in there and not play to the best of our ability and expect to win."
ECU is 0-7 all-time at the FedExForum and has lost all eight games in its series with the Memphis. The Pirates have never beaten a ranked team on the road and will be looking to end a 17-game losing streak against Top 25 opponents.
Darrius Morrow, averaging 10.5 points and a team-high 6.5 boards, missed last season's matchup with Memphis after being suspended for a violation of team rules.
Brock Young helped pick up the slack with 21 points, but he's averaging 9.6 this season after leading the team with 15.5 per game in 2009-10.
"We obviously have to shoot the ball better," Lebo said. "Rebounding is going to be key, and we have to be able to keep (Memphis) out of the paint."