Sunday, January 24, 2016

East Carolina 84, Tigers 83

Posted By on Sun, Jan 24, 2016 at 4:24 PM

"I didn't see this coming. I thought we were ready to go." Josh Pastner can only hope that Sunday afternoon represents the nadir in his seventh season as coach of the Memphis Tigers. In front of a typically sparse FedExForum crowd, Memphis fell to an East Carolina team that entered the contest 0-6 in American Athletic Conference competition and 0-7 in road games. Prince Williams hit two free throws with four seconds left on the clock, erasing the one-point lead Tiger forward Trahson Burrell had given Memphis five seconds earlier. (Burrell missed the first of his two free throws.) With the win the Pirates improve to 9-11 overall while Memphis falls to 12-7 (3-3 in the AAC). The loss is a damaging blow both to the Tigers' chances for a regular-season AAC championship and thoughts of an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament.

"I'm not going to say we took them lightly," said Burrell after the game. "But we weren't as up as if we were playing [top-ranked] Oklahoma again. It's natural to play to the level of your competition, but I wouldn't say we took them for granted. We came out in the first half very sluggish."
click to enlarge LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

"They shot 75 percent [six for eight] on threes in the first half," emphasized senior Shaq Goodwin, who finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds despite playing most of the second half in foul trouble. "You can say it came down to this play or that play, but really it comes down to us holding our principles as a team. You've got to forget the good and the bad. I'm gonna talk to the team and tell them to forget about what just happened; we can't go back. All we can do is prepare for UCF and get better."

The Tigers were indeed dreadful in the first half, allowing ECU to shoot 61 percent overall and take a 45-36 lead after 20 minutes. The team's top scorer and rebounder, freshman Dedric Lawson, had only four points at the break and not a single rebound. He hit nine of ten shots from the field in the second half and was central to the Tigers' comeback, finishing with a game-high 27 points (one more than the Pirates' B.J. Tyson). Lawson scored six points on consecutive possessions — a layup, free throw, and three-pointer — to give Memphis a 74-73 lead with six minutes left to play. Memphis would surrender the lead and take it back three times before the final sequence at the free-throw stripe won the game for ECU.

Burrell had his second consecutive strong game off the Tiger bench, finishing with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Senior guard Ricky Tarrant Jr. committed his fourth foul with 12:27 left and never re-entered the game. Pastner said he felt both Tarrant and Sam Craft fell short of expectations as floor leaders in the loss. Tarrant missed five of his six shots from the field while Craft scored 10 points in 24 minutes.

The Tigers committed 16 turnovers, their most in 10 games, leading to 25 points for the Pirates.

"A bad loss," stressed Pastner. "We were in quicksand the first 20 minutes of the game. They hit a bunch of threes. Markel Crawford cut a screen [early], and they hit a three for some confidence. They were on fire. I'm disappointed, but there's no time for self-pity or pointing fingers. We need to find a way to get a win Tuesday [at UCF]. The last two games, our perimeter defense has not been good. It's kicked our butt."

The Tigers' next two games will be on the road, Tuesday at UCF then next Saturday at SMU. (The Mustangs lost their first game of the season today at Temple.) They'll return to FedExForum to host Connecticut on February 4th.

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