Seeking to get back on track after a road loss to Tulane on New Year’s Day, the University of Memphis found its way in the second half against the East Carolina Pirates at FedExForum on Saturday.
Trailing the hot-shooting Pirates by eight (33-25) at the half, the Tigers (12-4, 2-1) American Athletic Conference) cooled off ECU after the break in a 69-59 return to the win column.
“Great second half. It was one of our better second halves of the year. We found our energy and turned the game around,” said Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway.
“We started pressing. We went back to our old ways. We sped the game up … (to make ECU) feel uncomfortable. That was Memphis basketball in that segment.”
The Pirates had the Tigers in an uncomfortable spot, shooting 48 percent in the first half, including half of their 14 bombs from three-point territory. With 1:09 left, they held their largest lead of the game (33-22).
With Memphis’ season-leading scorer, Kendric Davis, held to two first-half points, DeAndre Williams stepped up to keep the Tigers close going into halftime. At one point, he scored six consecutive points.
“I tried to make sure I was aggressive throughout the whole game,” Williams said. I saw they did not have a big like that. I started off shooting treys. I missed two and started back in the paint. We locked in … and closed it out.”
It was all Tigers early in the second half as turnovers and a 23-3 run wiped out the ECU lead. In a seven-minute span, the Tigers went from 11 points down to 11 up (47-36) with 13:07 left in the game.
Memphis forced 10 turnovers in the first half. In the first six minutes of the second half, the Tigers forced nine turnovers as they changed the course of the game. The Pirates shot 33 percent after the first half.
For the game, Memphis scored 28 points off of 22 turnovers. Alex Lomax (seven points, six assists) finished with seven steals. With 208 career steals, he passed Otis Jackson (1978-82) for seventh on the program’s all-time steals list.
“I just saw the flow of the game,” said Lomax. “Things weren’t looking right for us. I had some energy left. I used a lot of angles I know and some tricks and trades of defense I have learned. It played in our favor today. We executed well.”
Williams was the leading scorer with 19 points. Davis had 14 points and 6 assists. And for the first time in over a month, Memphis outrebounded an opponent (32-31).
Hardaway was asked if he thinks the Memphis team that showed up is the team that went 10-3 in non-conference play.
“I am not confident … that is back,” he said. “What happened is we have more bodies. It is a different focus than it was.”
In an injury update, Hardaway said center Malcolm Dandridge is expected to miss at least another week. Jaden Hardaway, after playing at Tulane, did not play against the Pirates as he continues to nurse an injury.
The Pirates (10-7, 1-3 AAC) were led by Brandon Johnson with 15 points. R.J. Felton and Javon Small each scored 10. After their first-half barrage from deep, the Pirates managed only two three-pointers the rest of the way.
The Tigers begin a two-game road trip against the University of Central Florida on Wednesday (Jan. 11) before taking on Temple in Philadelphia next Sunday (Jan. 15).