GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) -- Memphis is still figuring out the best
way to attack a zone defense and play on the road with a target on
Rodney Carney scored 27 points Wednesday night to help the
fifth-ranked Tigers hold off East Carolina 77-67, giving Memphis
its first road win in nearly a month.
Shawne Williams added 13 points and 12 rebounds for the Tigers
(14-2), who had to fight the entire way to remain unbeaten against
the Pirates (6-8) in the Conference USA opener for both teams.
The Tigers -- whose only losses were to top-ranked Duke and
Texas (No. 9 ESPN/USA Today; No. 8 AP) -- hardly played up to their lofty ranking against a program
that hasn't had a winning record in nine years. They struggled with
their shooting, opting for plenty of 3-point attempts against the
Pirates' zone -- which appears to be the textbook strategy for
matching up with Memphis after the Tigers' loss to the Longhorns
and a tougher-than-expected win against Winthrop.
But, with the game tied at halftime, Memphis did enough after
the break in front of a rowdy and hostile sellout crowd to win in
its first road game since beating Mississippi on Dec. 17.
Consider it a small step forward for a team that played five
freshmen, two sophomores and two seniors.
"Some of the teammates thought we'd just come out and easily
beat them, but I knew that we wouldn't," said Carney, a senior who
hit six 3-pointers. "I knew they'd come out and play hard and make
incredible shots, that the fans would get on us and we wouldn't get
no calls. That's what I told them and that's exactly what happened.
It's hard to play down here."
Memphis was the highest-ranked team ever to visit Minges
Coliseum, a place where the Pirates have had recent success against
ranked teams. They earned two wins against Marquette, beating the
ninth-ranked Golden Eagles in 2001-02 and the Dwyane Wade-led Final
Four team that was ranked 13th the following season.
But East Carolina was 1-7 against other ranked teams at Minges,
and the Tigers added another loss to that mark -- though not without
quite a fight from the Pirates.
Memphis shot just 37 percent, including 10-for-35 from behind
the arc, and had trouble getting easy baskets in transition. But
the Tigers kept pressing the Pirates to wear them down, and knocked
down enough big shots while holding East Carolina without a field
goal for almost the final 8 minutes.
"Every team's going to play their best when they play against
us because we've got a tiger on our back," Williams said.
"Everyone's going to play zone. We're just working hard at
practice to prepare for it."
On this night, that meant continuing to hoist the open
long-distance shots that came off good ball perimeter movement or
"If they're wide open, you have to shoot them," coach John
Calipari said. "I know people are going to look at me and say,
'Cal, you're losing your mind. Your former teams, none of them shot
this many 3s.' If they're contested, they're bad shots. I think
they were open."
The Tigers went ahead to stay on Williams' stickback of his own
missed tip for a 51-50 lead with 12 minutes left, and pushed the
lead to 58-52 on a 3 from Darius Washington Jr. with 8:16 left.
The Pirates answered on the next play, getting a 3 from Courtney
Captain to cut the deficit to three. But the Pirates struggled
getting open looks from there against the long and athletic Tigers
defenders, failing to hit another shot until the final minute.
Carney followed Captain's 3 with one on the next play to put the
Tigers up 61-55 with 7:46 left.
East Carolina got as close as 61-59 on two free throws from
Corey Rouse (20 points, 12 rebounds) with 5:16 left, but Williams
knocked down a 3 off penetration by Antonio Anderson on the next
possession to make it 64-59.
The Pirates had several chances afterward, but they missed five
free throws in the second half. They also couldn't shake out of
their shooting drought in time, going without a field goal until
Rouse banked in a long 3-pointer to make it 73-67 with 26 seconds
"There's no in-between -- you win or you lose," said Ricky
Stokes, East Carolina's first-year coach. "But if we continue to
have that effort, I think good things can happen for this team."