Tigers too quick for Pirates

Published 10:37 pm Wednesday, February 8, 2012

East Carolina guard Miguel Paul (center) throws a no-look pass to Darrius Morrow (1) during the Pirates’ 70-59 loss to Memphis on Saturday in Greenville. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

GREENVILLE — On Wednesday Memphis announced it had beaten East Carolina in the race to join a BCS conference and then Tigers beat up on the Pirates on the basketball court by topping them 70-59.
With Memphis (17-7, 7-2) joining the Big East in 2013 the opportunities for ECU (12-11, 3-7) to improve on its 1-11 lifetime record against the annual Conference USA powerhouse is dwindling. On Wednesday, the Tigers’ athleticism took over as their defense held the Pirates to 38.6 percent shooting from the floor while outscoring them 40-24 in the paint to snap their three-game winning streak.
“The athleticism and speed and quickness that Memphis possess bothers a lot of people and it bothered us,” East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo said. “Defensively,
I thought they were outstanding.”
Memphis entered Wednesday’s contest leading Conference USA in field goal defense percentage holding teams to 38 percent shooting, which is exactly where the Pirates finished.
Tigers’ coach Josh Pastner used a variety of defenses and blended in some presses and traps that chewed up the shot clock leaving the Pirates with less time to set up their offense.
“They try and take your point guard out of it and make him work. We don’t have a lot of ballhandlers other than Miguel (Paul) so I thought they did a nice job of making him work,” Lebo said. “They have athletic bigs in the back that can double your point guard and still get back to their man quickly.”
Despite having to work through the Tigers’ press Paul still led the team with 13 points and dished out a game-high eight assists.
“It was hard to prepare for that and prepare for their speed,” Paul said. “I thought I did a pretty good job getting it up it just slowed us down.”
Also reaching double-digit scoring totals for ECU were Darrius Morrow, who posted 12 points and grabbed five rebounds, and Shamarr Bowden who scored 10 points.
Chris Crawford powered the Tigers with 16 points and made three of his six three-point attempts. Will Barton, C-USA’s leading scorer, tallied three less than his average and finished the game with 15 points. Memphis forward Wesley Witherspoon recorded a double-double by producing 12 points and snaring 11 boards.
After trailing 37-25 at halftime East Carolina cut the Tigers’ lead to 46-40 after a Paul three-pointer with 14:27 to go. However, the Pirates cold not sustain their momentum and turned the ball over on three straight possessions.
Memphis would respond by ripping off a 17-6 run that put it ahead 63-46 with a little under seven minutes left in the game.
“We made a run in the second half and then we had two or three odd turnovers where we just lost the ball a couple of times,” Lebo said.
Once again Morrow flirted with foul trouble for a bulk of the second half  but the Pirates held steady on the boards as an 11-rebound effort by Maurice Kemp led to ECU holding a 37-34 advantage on the glass.
The Pirates biggest disadvantage was their lack of quickness, which led to the Tigers beating them down the court for quick buckets that allowed them to outscore ECU 40-24 in the paint.
“They didn’t score in the paint on post up moves, they scored in the paint with their guards driving the ball into the paint,” Lebo said.
ECU forward Erin Straughn had a solid game and made two of his three 3-point attempts to six points in 14 minutes but the junior had to leave the game at the 15:13 mark in the second half after getting hit with an inadvertent elbow by the Tigers’ Joe Jackson.
“When I saw him he had a huge gash, hole in his lip,” Lebo said.
Straughn did not return to the game.
The Pirates will be back in action on Saturday when they play at Marshall