GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP)—The Memphis Tigers struggled to remain unbeaten in Conference USA.
The Tigers shot 31 percent from the field, including a 4-for-23 effort from 3-point range, but were able to still beat East Carolina 61-44 on Saturday.
Memphis (15-3, 5-0 Conference-USA) remained in first place win the win over the last-place Pirates (5-12, 0-4).
“(East Carolina’s) defense sagged a lot and we were in a hurry,” said Memphis coach John Calipari, whose team was without starting forward Chris Douglas-Roberts because of an ankle injury. “When a team sags, it’s two or three drives, two or three passes, and then you play. You’ve got to move (the defense) a little bit—pass, cut, drive. We didn’t do it.”
Memphis struggled to score in the first half, and it wasn’t until midway through the second half that the Tigers were able to pull away.
Jeremy Hunt scored 16 points and Doneal Mack added 15 for the Tigers, who took 39 free throws. Robert Dozier had 12 points and 10 rebounds for Memphis.
John Fields scored 14 points to lead East Carolina.
The lead changed hands five times early in the second half, but a 7-0 Memphis run capped by Dozier’s putback dunk gave the Tigers a 33-28 lead with 16:30 remaining.
Mack scored 10 consecutive Memphis points to stretch the Tigers lead to 45-32 with 12:27 left in the game.
The Pirates closed to within 48-38 on Darrell Jenkins’ jumper with 8:19 remaining, but could get no closer. A 7-minute, 19-second field goal drought followed Jenkins’ bucket and Memphis stretched its lead to as many as 21 points during that span.
“When we went in at halftime, we knew we didn’t play like we wanted to play,” said Hunt, who scored 13 of his points after intermission. “We just came out and tried to get on (the Pirates) early. We had the mind frame of play hard defense, rebound and get easy buckets.”
In the first half, Memphis took a 20-16 lead at the 2:50 mark but East Carolina closed the half with a 5-1 run and tied it 21-all on John Fields’ putback at the first-half buzzer.
The teams combined to turn the ball over 27 times in the first half—14 for the Pirates and 13 for Memphis. However, the Tigers cured their turnover problems after the break, with just three second-half giveaways, but East Carolina wilted under Memphis’ full-court pressure and finished the game with 24 turnovers.
“We anticipated them applying more defensive pressure,” East Carolina coach Ricky Stokes said. “That forced us to probably play a little faster than we wanted to. We did not handle the ball well.”