Pirates look to play spoilers

Published 7:25 pm Tuesday, February 21, 2012

East Carolina F/C Darrius Morrow (center) shoots against Memphis during the Pirates 70-59 loss on Feb. 8 in Greenville. Tonight, ECU will travel to Memphis for a rematch with the Tigers. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

GREENVILLE — Over the years Memphis has dished its fair share of pain to the Pirates on the hardwood but tonight East Carolina can return the favor if it can manage to pull of an upset of the Tigers on their home turf.
Coming off of a 60-58 loss to UTEP, Memphis (19-8,9-3) is desperately trying to improve its NCAA tournament resume but a loss to East Carolina (12-13, 9-3) just might put a hole in their bracket bubble that only a Conference USA tournament title could patch.
As far as coach Jeff Lebo and the Pirates are concerned, Memphis’ need to win out its four remaining regular season games makes the Tigers a very dangerous animal.
“We’re getting them at a rough time. If they lose another game I think they’re out of the discussion for an NCAA bid,” Lebo said. “We’re going to (see Memphis) playing at another level.”
The Tigers’ desperation would make a victory over them that much sweeter but in order to do that East Carolina, who is 1-11 lifetime against the departing C-USA powerhouse, must do a better job of taking care of the ball. When these two teams clashed on Feb. 8 Memphis scored 21 points on turnovers and held a 40-24 scoring advantage in the paint en route to a 70-59 victory.
Memphis coach Josh Pastner employed several presses and traps to trip up the ECU guards and get his team running and gunning. Tonight, slowing down the tempo will be critical factor for the Pirates.
“It’s hard but we can’t turn the ball over in a live-ball situation. It’s better, if we are going to turn it over, to just throw it out of bounds so we can at least set our defense,” Lebo said. “If you turn it over in a live-ball situation their speed is incredible. They’re just faster than everybody in every spot, that’s how they get so many easy baskets in transition.”
Once ECU crosses halfcourt its goal is to milk the clock by running sets that lead to quality shots. Lebo said missed transition threes could prove costly.
“The big thing is not turning the ball over, but the second thing is we don’t want to have quick unexpected shots against them,” Lebo said. “(Rebounds from) quick, long, unexpected shots is the first pass in their fastbreak and we can’t have that.”
The last time out the Pirates were brutally bad from the three-point line where they made only 16 percent of their attempts in their 64-55 loss to Central Florida. If they have another night like that against a fastbreak team it could have devastating consequences.
“We’re going to have to make some threes. Obviously we’re going to have to shoot a lot better than four of 24 like we did against UCF,” Lebo said.
The Tigers are led by star sophomore swingman Will Barton who leads Conference USA in scoring with 17.9 points per game and is pulling down a sixth-best 8.1 boards a night.
ECU will try to counter Memphis by getting the ball down low to F/C Darrius Morrow (13.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and trying to create mismatches with athletic but lanky 6-9, 185-pound power forward Maurice Kemp (10.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg).
“I think we can attack them at the four spot with some size,” Lebo said.
Despite suffering from “turf toe,” Kemp was able to play 22 minuets against UCF last Saturday and posted eight points and five rebounds. The junior forward said that the pain from the injury is constant but for now he is pushing the aggravation to the side.
“Of course it was painful but I felt like me playing was more important than being bothered by the pain so I decided to play through it,” Kemp said.