Pirates play host to MemphisPublished 5:15pm Tuesday, February 7, 2012
GREENVILLE — How far have the Pirates come along during their three-game winning streak? The answer will come tonight as East Carolina will host perennial Conference USA powerhouse Memphis at 7 p.m.
After losing six games in a row the Pirates (12-10, 3-6) have steered the ship in the right direction by topping UAB and SMU before taking down Rice 82-68 on Saturday.
In the last three games East Carolina has seen a spike in balanced production and rebounding and that trend must continue tonight against the Tigers, who at 16-7 (12-2) sit in third place in the Conference USA standings behind Southern Miss (20-3, 7-1) and Tulsa (14-9, 7-2).
Memphis comes to Greenville boasting the No. 1 scoring offense in the conference (74.8 ppg), which is fueled by the stellar play of Will Barton. The 6-6 sophomore swingman leads Conference USA in scoring with 18.4 points per game and is sixth in the league in rebounding with 8.3 a night.
Barton, along with G Joe Jackson (10.4 ppg), G Chris Crawford (9 ppg, 3.6 apg) and F Tarik Black (9.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg) comprise a very talented sophomore class whose speed and athleticism creates major headaches for opposing teams.
“They’re No. 1 in the league in field goal percentage (48 percent) and field goal percentage defense (38 percent) so they can defend. They have quickness, they can score at every spot and their athleticism is just different than most people in the league,” East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo said. “They have a No. 1 recruiting class in the country that are now sophomores so they are very, very talented.”
One of the most talented of the group is Barton who is a phenomenal all-around basketball player.
“He can score in a variety of ways. He has size, he’s got length, he can score around the basket area and put the ball on the floor. He jumps over smaller defenders and he can score in the open court,” Lebo said. “He can be streaky from the perimeter but the draft boards have him as a first round draft pick next year.”
In order to slow down Barton, ECU will throw variety of defenders at him of all shapes and sizes. Erin Straughn, the Pirates sturdy 6-6 small forward, and 6-4 backup point guard Corvonn Gaines will likely get the first crack at Barton but if that doesn’t work Lebo may incorporate taller defenders like Robert Sampson (6-8) and Maurice Kemp (6-9) into the mix.
“He’s a hard matchup. If you put a bigger guy on him he uses his quickness. You put a smaller guy on him he can post up even though he weighs about 185 pounds. He’s strong and can score around the basket and get to foul line,” Lebo said.
East Carolina will counter on offense behind the play of center Darrius Morrow (13.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg), point guard Miguel Paul (16.0 ppg, 5.5 apg) and PF Kemp (10.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg).
On Saturday, Morrow found himself in foul trouble against the Owls but the effort of Kemp (14 points), Paul (14 points), Gaines (13 points) and Paris Roberts-Campbell (13 points) helped pick up the slack on offense.
Those players need have another solid outing tonight but at the same time Morrow must be careful with his fouls.
“I have to pick and chose my spots when to block a shot and to be aggressive on defense,” Morrow said. “Some layups around the basket I can let go because I’m one of the only big guys on the team and I have to play major minutes so I’ll have to let a couple go.”