Surging Pirates defeat Memphis

Published 11:27 pm Tuesday, February 10, 2015

GREENVILLE — When ECU played at Memphis on Jan. 28, Pirate freshman-phenom B.J. Tyson had zero points as his Pirates suffered a 70-58 loss. On Tuesday night in Minges Coliseum, Tyson’s 20 second-half points helped soar ECU to a 64-53 victory over the Tigers.

Memphis (14-10, 6-5 AAC) outplayed ECU (11-13, 4-7 AAC) in the first half with stifling defense; the Pirates shot just 26.9 percent and Tyson was just 1-for-5 with three points. But the Pirates managed to go into the tunnel trailing by just four, leaving the door open for a more complete second half from Tyson and his teammates.

“Defense kept us in it in the first half. I could have wrung [Tyson’s] neck at halftime,” said ECU head coach Jeff Lebo jokingly. “I love him but I try to get him to understand how good he can be so I ride him hard.”

That tough love paid off in the second half as the freshman exploded, going 9-for-9 from the field, leading his team to a 43-28 finish out of halftime, and causing his coach to sing a different tune.

“He made a one-on-one play driving the ball late in the shot clock,” said Lebo. “He made another one where he took [his man] baseline, rose up and made a jump shot. I ran a couple lob plays for him that he went up and got. He was all over the place in the second half.”

Tyson gave ECU the spark it needed in the second half after struggling from the field as a team and he was the key component in two momentous runs; he scored 10 points during a 12-0 outburst that gave the Pirates a 33-29 lead at the 14:47 mark and he hit two crucial pull-ups during a 14-4 run that closed out the game. Memphis led 49-48 at the 5:45 mark before ECU’s sprint to the finish.

“I felt like [the first half] was the worst half I ever played,” said Tyson. “I went back at halftime, regrouped and I told myself to just keep attacking and everything will fall.”

The Pirates have won three of their last four (no small feat for the inaugural season in a competitive conference) and on Tuesday, they picked up their second win over a perennial NCAA tournament team in less than two weeks and just their second ever win over Memphis.

“The job Jeff Lebo has done [in Greenville] is absolutely terrific,” said Memphis head coach Josh Pastner. “He’s a great coach but even a better guy, so as much as I hate losing, I’m very happy for him because I know this is a big win and they’ve been playing well. I hope the athletic director here gives [Lebo] a 10-year extension and signs him for a lifetime contract because it’s well deserved.”

Lebo pointed out that ECU could not have picked a better time to play the Tigers as Memphis lost their star forward Austin Nichols to injury Saturday in a buzzer-beating loss to Temple. Nichols went for 21 points against ECU the first time around.

“Our entire offensive and defensive structure was built around him,” said Pastner. “The guy was vying for player of the year in the league.”

ECU’s guard play is at least on par with Memphis’s this year so the lack of a star forward evened the overall matchup and opened the door for ECU’s guards to penetrate and make plays.

Point guard Antonio Robinson has been ECU’s everything player of late and he produced another balanced stat line Tuesday.

“Antonio does all the dirty work for us,” said Lebo. “He’s second or third in the league in steals; he got three again tonight, he had one turnover, six rebounds (and six points). He embraces the role he has and he made some key plays for us.”

The Pirates will need more than just their current momentum to win on the road against Temple Saturday. The Owls (18-7, 9-3) have won six in a row and their resume includes impressive wins over Kansas, Connecticut, Memphis and Tuesday’s 75-59 victory over Cincinnati.