Coach Josh Pastner described his team’s first half as “lackluster.” The Tigers were outrebounded for the second straight game, this time 33-32 by one of Conference USA’s bottom-feeders, East Carolina. The U of M’s top scorer, Elliot Williams, was held 11 points under his season average. And the Tigers had no one grab more than five rebounds or dish out more than three assists.
Swallow all that, and consider Memphis won the game by 20 points. The much-talked-about streak in C-USA play is now at 63, one shy of the record Kentucky set in the SEC between 1945 and 1950. (The Tigers — now 12-4 — can tie the record Saturday night, when they play at Rice.)
After leading by only seven (33-26) at halftime, the Tigers opened the second half on a 15-3 spurt that allowed them to coast for the last 15 minutes. Barely two minutes after halftime, senior Doneal Mack drained a three-pointer to become the 46th Tiger to reach 1,000 for his career.
“I didn’t even know I was that close,” admitted Mack after the game. “It’s a great honor. I was originally committed to Florida before I came here. I was a late signee, just battling for a position on the floor, to make the team. Never thought I’d be in the 1,000-point club. But that’s the past now. We’ve got some games to get ready for in our conference.”
Mack had struggled mightily in the Tigers’ last two contests, hitting only three of 22 shots combined against Syracuse and Southern Miss. Tonight, he made five of 12, including three of six from downtown. “We all go in slumps,” he said. “But I got to the gym early, I worked on my form, on a lot of things. It comes naturally.”
ECU point guard Brock Young delivered 21 points and appears to be a candidate for all-conference consideration. He was forced into five turnovers, though, by a Tiger defense that held the Pirates to 36 percent from the field.
“I was not pleased with the way we played in the first half,” said Pastner. “Among our first 16 games, I thought that was our worst half. We weren’t competing . . . and that’s a credit to East Carolina. But we were able to grind it out in the second half, and anytime you hold a team to under 60 points, you give yourself a chance to win the game. It was ugly, but an ugly ‘W’ is better than a pretty ‘L.’”
“It’s a long season,” Pastner acknowledged. “There are going to be some ups and downs. That’s part of basketball. My responsibility as coach is to manage different egos, different personalities. You have to deflate your ego. To be good at any sport, to win championships, you have to be good defensively.”
Elliot Williams had a scoreless first half after his 33-point outing Saturday night in Hattiesburg. He failed to drain a three-pointer (on three attempts) after making eight at Southern Miss. His eight points for the game were his lowest output of the season.
Coming off the bench, Willie Kemp scored 13 for the Tigers and hit three of five shots from beyond the arc.