Anderson’s 26 points helps Memphis win
GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP)—Antonio Anderson had the best game of his season and his coach hardly even noticed.
Anderson poured in a season-high 26 points and tallied eight assists, leading No. 18 Memphis to an 85-64 victory over East Carolina on Wednesday night.
“Antonio did what he does,” said Memphis coach John Calipari, who had been praising other players before pausing to glance at the postgame stat sheet. “Wow. He had 26 points, eight assists, two turnovers. Guess what? He was pretty good, too.”
Anderson, who combined to make just 3 of 13 shots from the field in his last two games, connected on 9 of 13 attempts against the Pirates. Tyreke Evans added 18 points for the Tigers (17-3, 6-0 Conference USA), who won their 48th consecutive game against conference competition.
Robert Dozier scored 11 points for Memphis, which made its first seven shots from the field on the way to a 19-8 advantage 5 minutes into the game. The Tigers, who led 45-31 at halftime, maintained a lead of at least eight points throughout the second half.
“We played out of our minds,” Calipari said of the first half.
Calipari had been concerned that his team might struggle in the aftermath of its emotional 54-52 victory over Tennessee on Saturday, but Anderson made sure that didn’t happen.
“We couldn’t afford a letdown because when you let down in the beginning, that gives them hope,” said Anderson, whose previous season-high point total was 18. “We didn’t want to give them any hope. We tried to put it on them as quick as possible in both halves and tried to let them know that they’re going to have to play extremely well for 40 minutes in order to beat us.”
East Carolina wasn’t up to the task.
Jamar Abrams scored 18 points to lead the Pirates (10-9, 2-4), who lost for the eighth time in 10 games after starting the season 8-1. Sam Hinnant added 17 points for East Carolina, which suffered its 16th consecutive loss against ranked opponents.
The Tigers asserted themselves from the opening tip on their way to their 33rd consecutive win in the month of January. All five starters made a basket during their 7-for-7 start, forcing East Carolina to abandon its man-to-man defense for zone.
A 3-pointer by Anderson gave the Tigers a 12-3 lead with 17:42 remaining in the first half, causing East Carolina coach Mack McCarthy to call a timeout. But the Pirates failed to cut into the lead, falling behind by 12 points on three occasions before Memphis took its biggest lead of the period at 32-17 on a breakaway dunk by Anderson with 8:24 left.
East Carolina trimmed the lead to 40-31 on a jumper by Brock Young with 2:01 left, but Memphis scored the final five points of the half.
The Pirates committed 10 of their 12 turnovers in the first half, giving up the ball five times against Memphis’ 2-2-1 fullcourt press. The Tigers scored nine points off those five miscues, fueling their 53-percent shooting in the first half.
“Their defensive intensity and pressure really hurt us,” Abrams said.
The Pirates also suffered from self-inflicted wounds. East Carolina, which entered play leading the conference in free-throw shooting, made just 9 of 22 free throws.
Hinnant kept the Pirates in the game with four 3-pointers in the first 8 1/2 minutes of the second half, but Memphis gained separation with a 7-0 run to take a 62-47 lead with 11:55 to play.
The Tigers, who outscored East Carolina 44-18 in the lane, shot a season-best 54.8-percent from the floor. They finished the game with 24 assists and a season-low six turnovers.
“We just clicked,” Anderson said. “We knew they don’t have much size, so we just attacked as much as we could.”