Less than three weeks removed from suffering a 12-point defeat at the hands of the Tigers (14-10, 6-5 American Athletic Conference), the Pirates (11-13, 4-7 AAC) battled back and avenged the loss thanks in large part to Tyson’s 20-point second half.
But for how good Tyson and the Pirates were in the second half, they were perhaps equally as bad in the first half despite only trailing by four going into the intermission. They shot 26.9 percent through the first 20 minutes and if not for ECU’s multiple zones on defense, the half time deficit could have been much worse.
“Defensively, for forty minutes, I thought we were awfully good,” said ECU coach Jeff Lebo.
Memphis jumped out to a quick 10-3 lead and it wasn’t until late in the first half that the Pirates started to find their rhythm. ECU capped off the half on a 10-5 run thanks to Tyson’s lay up with 2:01 left. It was his first points of the contest and, from that moment, neither team would score before halftime. Memphis held a 25-21 lead heading to the dressing room.
“We were a little lethargic,” said Lebo. “The defense kept us in it in the first half and, as poorly as we shot it, we were only down by four.”
The turning point of the game came with 15:06 remaining in the second half. B.J. Tyson had just jammed home an alley-oop from Caleb White—Tyson’s second dunk in 35 seconds, with another slam from Terry Whisnant sandwiched in between. With that, ECU led 33-29. The Pirates carried the momentum through the half as they shot an astonishing 66.7 percent.Whisnant, the sharpshooting junior, attempted only two shots from behind the arc and finished the night with seven points.
“I feel like (Michael) Jordan,” a smiling Tyson said after the game. “That’s how I was brought up, watching Jordan. I know I have a real quick first step and I tried to use that to my advantage.”
From there the game became a back and forth affair and Memphis forward Shaq Goodwin’s layup with 5:45 gave the Tigers a 49-48 lead. It was a lead that wouldn’t last long and wouldn’t return.
Paris Roberts-Campbell, who played 20 minutes and tallied five points, hit a layup shortly after losing the lead and from there it came down to the Pirates making all six of their free throws to close out Memphis for good.
The last time the two teams met, Tyson, the game’s leading scorer, saw limited action and didn't score a point against the Tigers. Tyson’s 23-point, five rebound turnaround in the second matchup between the two teams proved to be a major factor in the team’s success.
“He’s a good player,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said of Tyson. “Tonight we didn’t guard well in the second half. We were switching and putting different guys on him but he’s a really good player.”
Perhaps a reason for Tyson and the Pirates’ success was the loss of Memphis sophomore forward Austin Nichols, the team’s leading scorer, rebounder and blocker. When the Pirates traveled to Memphis two weeks ago, Nichols put up 21 points and five rebounds before spraining his ankle against Temple just three days ago.
“We’re excited to win,” said Lebo of picking up the program’s second ever win over Memphis. “But we did get them at a good time having Nichols out. A lot of what they do goes through him but I know it’s difficult for Josh (Pastner) losing that guy because they did a good job of doing everything that they could to get him the ball.”
ECU guard Antonio Robinson was a big factor for what the Pirates were able to do defensively, holding Memphis to just 36.5 percent shooting for the game. He tallied six points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals on the night.
For Memphis, Goodwin and Nick King led the way with 13 points each. However, the Tigers’ starting five managed just 37 of the team’s points and accounted for 14 of the team’s 19 total turnovers.
The ECU victory was its second consecutive and marked its third win in the last four contests with the only loss coming against Connecticut on February 4.
“This was big,” Tyson said. “This is like a rivalry game, this one is bigger (than last week’s win over Cincinnati).”
Next up, ECU hits the road to take on Temple Saturday before a meeting at conference-leading Tulsa next week.