Kareem Brewton Jr. drives in search of an opening against the ECU defense. (Photo: Terry Davis)
Memphis Coach Penny Hardaway talks about the game that the Tigers did not take control of until deep into the second half. (Photo: Terry Davis)

“It was an ugly win, but we will take those,” was the opening statement of Head Coach Penny Hardaway after the University of Memphis Tigers managed to get by the East Carolina University Pirates 78-72 at FedExForum Thursday night.

Looking to send a message to freshmen Tyler Harris and Antwann Jones, Hardaway removed them from the starting lineup and went with five seniors Kyvon Davenport, Jeremiah Martin, Kareem Brewton Jr. Mike Parks Jr. and Raynere Thornton

“They (Harris and Jones) had to be pushed hard all day in practice,” Hardaway said. “I said to both of them you have to show me you want this, you have to come out of the lineup. You can’t come to practice half-ass and just going through the motions. How you practice is how you play.”

As for the seniors, Hardaway said, “I am really disappointed in how the seniors played.”

The Tigers (10-6, 2-1) were down by as many as 14 points in the first half as the Pirates (8-7, 1-2) made easy basket after easy basket. With 7 minutes left before the break, the Pirates were shooting over 50 percent from the field. With Memphis’ shooting percentage hovering in the low to mid-30s, the Tigers pumped it up to 48 percent by halftime, cutting the deficit to four points (40-36).

A slow second-half start by the Tigers put them in a 10-point hole (49-39) before a push brought them within two points (49-47). Jones connected on two consecutive three pointers and made two free throws during an 8-0 run that included a dunk by Davenport.

“We have to come out with more energy,” Brewton said. “When we start the game we just go with the motion. We have to pick it up quicker.”

Martin got a steal and layup to make it 59-58 with 10:30 left to go in the game. He was fouled on an out- of-bounds play and the Tigers were awarded with flagrant-foul call that netted two free throws and possession of the basketball. Martin made both free throws, giving Memphis the lead for the first time in the second half. Davenport was fouled on the same possession and he made one of two free throws.

After the flagrant foul the Tigers controlled the game the rest of the way. Isaiah Maurice made a layup, Davenport had a dunk and the Tigers went on a 6-0 run to take a 69-65 lead with 5:36 left in the game. Harris – after a couple of bad shooting games – connected on a three-pointer to make it 72-67 with 4:30 left. the Tigers stopped any run the Pirates tried to make.

Harris, one of the better free-throw shooters on the team, missed three of them. “I used my same strategy, but they just wasn’t falling today,” he said.

The Pirates had a balanced attack – Jayden Gardner led the way with 18 points, followed by Seth LeDay, 14; Isaac Fleming, 12; K. J. Davis, 12 points; and Shawn Williams, 10 points.

The Tigers had six players in double digits; Harris (16 points), Davenport (14 points), Brewton (13 points) and Martin, Jones and Maurice each had 10 points.

Game notes:

The Tigers got a big scare when Alex Lomax left the game early with a head injury suffered when he ran into a screen set by a Pirate defender. He sat on the court as play continued. After stoppage, the Tigers’ team trainer and team doctor hurried to him. He did not return and no further details were available immediately after the game.

According to Hardaway, the team’s chemistry is getting better and improving it going forward is largely upon the seniors. “They have seen this league and they understand what is going on. They have to talk to the freshmen and let them know what is going on. Maybe they (the freshmen) think they can do it on their own, but you can’t. You have to do it as a team.”

Attendance: 14,622

Next up for the Tigers is a trip to New Orleans to face the Tulane Green Wave (4-11, 0-3) on Sunday (January 13).