Pirates begin C-USA play at Memphis

Published 5:55 pm Saturday, January 8, 2011

By By BRIAN HAINES, Brian@wdnweb.com, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — The Pirates are nearly done with their five-game road stretch but before they come back to Minges Coliseum they will begin conference play on the road against traditional Conference USA power Memphis today at 4 p.m.
East Carolina (8-6) snapped a four-game losing streak its last time out by topping N.C. Central 58-50 as senior guard Jontae Sherrod poured in 17 points while forward Jamar Abrams added 16 points and seven rebounds.
Abrams said that being on the road for so long has had its pros and cons.
“It’s a challenge, but I think it’s good for our team,” Abrams said. “We are trying to learn something each game and build off this win we just had and stay focused because it’s tough to win on the road..”
So far this season the Pirates, who are averaging 70 points per game, have done a good job scoring the ball, but Abrams said it’s on the other end of the court where the team needs to improve the most.
“Our strength is scoring the ball, I think offensively we are doing a great job,” Abrams said. “I just think defensively we have to stay more consistent and do a better job getting on the boards.”
The Pirates will have to do everything at a high level today if they want to upset No. 21 Memphis (10-3).
“The kids are excited (to begin conference play), they gave us a tough one to start,” joked ECU coach Jeff Lebo. “But hopefully we will be ready to play.”
Memphis, who had one of the top recruiting classes in the country, is led by freshmen Will Barton and Joe Jackson and is coming off of a 104-84 loss to Tennessee on Wednesday.
Barton is the team’s leading averaging 12.8 points per game and five rebounds a night, while Jackson is posting 10.8 points per game and has team-high 56 assists.
Junior forward Wesley Weatherspoon is second on the team in scoring with 12.5 points per contest and is also grabbing five boards a night.
Lebo said his biggest concern today is stopping the Tigers’ fastbreak.
“They can score easy baskets in transition,” Lebo said. “They have good length, speed and the ability to run. They can offensive rebound and they can score off of their defense. They get a lot of transition buckets and make simple things look easy; that’s what good players do.
“There is a lot that concerns you with them, but mainly it’s their ability to make easy plays, one-on-one plays and beat you.”
Despite losing three out of four on the current road stretch, Lebo felt encouraged by his team’s play.
“I think we have (made some improvements), we have been competitive on every road game,” Lebo said. “If you go back to Old Dominion (81-68 loss on Dec. 7 at home) you are looking at five minutes of basketball (that the game got away from them), the next two games we lost both in the final two seconds and against Clemson with five minutes to go it was a five-point game. If we played a better 10 minutes of basketball we might be looking at a completely different record, but that’s the way it works.”