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View from the 'ville
Friday, March 4, 2011

By Al Myatt

This time, Memphis sings the blues

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

East Carolina continued a special basketball season under first-year coach Jeff Lebo with a 68-57 win over Memphis in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum on Wednesday night.

The Pirates had never beaten the Tigers in hoops. Then again, ECU has never had as many as eight wins in Conference USA. In improving to 16-13 overall, 8-7 in the league, Lebo designed a game plan to neutralize Memphis' inside scoring.

"The big thing coming in was to try to clog up the inside and make their perimeter players shoot the ball from the outside, be in gaps and take away driving lanes with good help," Lebo said. "If we could keep them out of transition situations and we could keep them somehow off the offensive board — that's where they really excel is in transition and in offensive rebounding. And they're pretty good one-on-one players.

"I thought the second half we did a nice job of that. The first half we gave them too many offensive rebounds and we also gave them too many transition baskets. I thought against their half-court stuff, we did a pretty good job offensively. They're athletic. They're quick. They're long. They're No. 1 in the league in field goal percentage defense. We made some big shots obviously in the second half at the end of some shot clocks that were timely and just gigantic shots."

Jamar Abrams hit a pair of threes and Jontae Sherrod connected from behind the arc in a 13-1 ECU run that expanded the Pirates lead from 47-46 with 8:35 left to 60-47 with 3:31 remaining.

Sherrod finished with 28 points, including six free throws in the final 1:12.

The Pirates played with patience on offense.

"We wanted to try to make them defend," Lebo said. "We didn't want to shoot the ball too quick against them. You shoot it quick, you take the first sort of halfway open one — that's the first pass for them toward their transition offense. We were patient and we got the ball inside a little bit better in the second half to (Darrius) Morrow."

Abrams and Morrow each had 11 points for the Pirates.

Pirates rise to the occasion(s)

"It was a big game for a lot of reasons," Lebo said. "We had never beaten Memphis. ... It was Senior Night. It was a game where we could get to eight (C-USA) wins, which hadn't been done here before. It would put us closer to having a winning season, which is the first time in 14 years that that's happened and you're playing on television against a team that's a national program. It was a great night. I'm really happy for the four seniors (Sherrod, Abrams, Chad Wynn and Brock Young) in particular. It was a great team win but I was really happy for those guys.

"Now they can leave out of here as winners. A win on Senior Night is a hard thing to do. The emotions are on. We had a great crowd (5,856) for Wednesday night. Our students were there. It was just a real emotional evening. It was a perfect night and I was happy for our team."

On top of all that, it was Morrow's 21st birthday.

"His Mom (Felissa) surprised him, flew up (from Atlanta), he didn't know," Lebo said. "She brought him a cake. He was surprised to see her. It was a good night."

On to UAB

The Pirates face league-leading UAB (21-7, 11-4 C-USA) on the road at 8 p.m. Saturday, a sobering reality after the giddiness of Wednesday night.

"With the change in the league schedule we lose Tulane and Rice twice and get UAB and Memphis twice," Lebo said. "But with each game it gives you an opportunity. I think UAB is maybe the best team in the league. They've got a ton at stake in this game. It's their Senior Night. They're fighting for an outright regular season Conference USA championship. They're fighting for an NCAA Tournament bid right now.

"They have a lot riding on this game. They have two terrific seniors in the backcourt (Jamarr Sanders, Aaron Johnson) who are really, really good. They're well coached (Mike Davis). They defend. They play together. They do all the things that good teams do but I think our kids will be excited to play.

"You're playing meaningful basketball here in March. We've won three in a row. We've been resilient and we've played for the most part, pretty decent on the road. We'll see what happens when we go there."

Sanders had 26 points when UAB topped the Pirates 66-59 in Greenville on Jan. 17.

"He beat us singlehandedly the second half here," Lebo said. "He was unbelievable. He can do that."

Wynn back for lengthy trip

Chad Wynn played five minutes against Memphis, hitting two free throws and grabbing a pair of rebounds as he returned from a suspension for a violation of team rules.

"He's reinstated and will be available for us," Lebo said.

The Pirates will travel to UAB on Friday.

"We won't come back after UAB," said the Pirates coach. "We'll stay there on Sunday and then fly from Birmingham to El Paso on Monday. We'll be on spring break so no use to travel all the way back to the East Coast. We'll just go right from there."

UTEP is hosting the C-USA Tournament, sponsored by Buick, which begins Wednesday at the 12,000-seat Don Haskins Center in El Paso, TX.

E-mail Al Myatt

Al Myatt Archives

04/01/2011 01:25 AM


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