MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)—Memphis’s first step in an anticipated waltz through Conference USA wasn’t exactly smooth. It did end with a nice up tempo flow.
After a pre-conference schedule that included Georgetown, Arizona, Connecticut and Southern California, the second-ranked Tigers caught a rhythm in the second half Wednesday night, defeating East Carolina 99-58.
Freshman Derrick Rose scored 19 points and the Tigers overcame a somewhat lackluster start in the conference opener for both teams.
“They came out of the gate like Ohio State did against LSU,” Memphis coach John Calipari said, comparing East Carolina’s intensity to the start of the BCS championship game. “When I watched the first five or seven minutes, I was like: ‘This team is pretty good.’ But what we do to you over a period of time is just wear you down.”
Andre Allen and Robert Dozier had 13 points each for the Tigers (14-0) with Dozier adding 10 rebounds. Chris Douglas-Roberts finished with 12 points as Memphis won its 41st straight home game and extended its overall conference winning streak to 24.
Darrell Jenkins and John Fields both had 11 points for the Pirates (6-8).
In the first half, Memphis hardly looked like the team picked to dominate C-USA, struggling from the field and allowing the Pirates to stay close. The Tigers wouldn’t build their lead to double digits until the latter stages of the half.
“I thought we took some things away,” East Carolina coach Mack McCarthy said. “We mixed things up and gave them some different looks. Finally, they just didn’t care what we were in, they were driving it and got to the foul line.”
The Tigers finished 31-of-49 from the line for the night.
East Carolina trailed 29-25 with 5:50 left in the first half. East Carolina then went 1-for-7 from the field over the final minutes. Memphis outscored the Pirates 14-4, finally taking the lead to double digits with 3:41 remaining.
The Tigers expect they will have to endure starts like Wednesday’s the rest of the way because of their reputation. Several players said it is a matter of weathering the early punches and the opponents’ adrenaline.
“It wasn’t overconfidence,” said reserve forward Shawn Taggart. “I feel like every game, teams are going to come out there and play the hardest they’ve ever played in their lives.”
Memphis finally got untracked after halftime, working the ball inside at first and then freeing up the outside for Allen, who connected on three of his four shots beyond the arc.
“We were happy (Allen) was taking those shots,” McCarthy said. “And then we were unhappy he was taking those shots. They’ve got a lot of weapons. Their numbers are not really indicative of what they’re capable of because some of their guys are getting limited minutes. Andre’s a better shooter than his percentage would indicate.”
Allen entered the game shooting 27 percent from the field and 21 percent from 3-point range. He said the poor early season shooting has not affected his confidence.
“I’m a ballplayer,” Allen said. “You’re going to miss shots, you’re going to make shots. You have slumps, and you come out of slumps.”
The Tigers hit 13 of their first 18 shots in the second half to push the lead to 33 points and coasted home.
Things got so frustrating for McCarthy that he was whistled for two technicals by official Ed Hightower in a 30-second span of the second half and headed to the locker room with 12:15 remaining.
Memphis’ final 41-point lead was its largest of the game, and the Tigers dominated in all aspects from rebounds (52-31) to a 44-22 lead in the paint. Memphis blocked 11 shots, including five by Dozier and four by Taggart, compared to five for East Carolina.
“They wore down,” Allen said.
Rose had 12 points in the half as Memphis led 43-29 despite the poor shooting. The Tigers, who shot better than 50 percent in the previous two games, managed only 33 percent from the field in the half, including missing five of their six shots outside the arc.
Memphis would shoot 59 percent from the field in the second half, including 7-of-12 from 3-point range.
“It’s very fun,” Allen said. “We’re winning. It can’t be anything but fun. If we were losing, it would be terrible. But we’re winning.”