Outstanding defense had helped Memphis put together 10 straight wins. That’s also how it has remained unbeaten against East Carolina.
The 18th-ranked Tigers, with a 47-game Conference USA winning streak on the line, look to shut down the Pirates yet again when the teams meet Wednesday night.
Memphis (16-3, 5-0) hasn’t lost since a 72-65 defeat to then-No. 11 Syracuse on Dec. 20. The Tigers are holding opponents to 56.6 points per game and 34.9 percent shooting during their 10-game win streak.
That stretch includes a 54-52 victory over in-state rival Tennessee on Saturday that avenged a defeat last season when the teams met as No. 1 vs. No. 2, with the Tigers getting knocked from the top spot in the poll after being dealt what would be their only regular-season loss.
Memphis returns to Conference USA play trying to win its 48th straight against league opponents, a streak that dates back to an 80-74 loss at UAB on March 2, 2006. The Tigers lead the conference in scoring defense, allowing 59.4 points per game.
Keeping East Carolina (10-8, 2-3) in check offensively has helped Memphis build its league winning streak, the longest in C-USA history.
The Tigers have won all six of their meetings with the Pirates, holding them to 59.5 points a contest and 35.7 percent shooting. Memphis has outscored East Carolina by an average margin of 17.3 points.
The Tigers’ victory over the Pirates last season was their most dominant in the series, winning 99-58 on Jan. 9. Eleven players scored for Memphis, which shot 44.4 percent (8-for-18) from 3-point range.
Tyreke Evans, then a high school senior, now leads the Tigers in scoring at 16.6 points per game. The 6-foot-6 guard has shown impressive poise for a freshman, scoring Memphis’ final seven points en route to finishing with 17 versus the Volunteers.
Evans was named Conference USA’s rookie of the week Monday, earning the honor for the sixth time to set a league record.
Evans is also averaging 5.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.6 steals. His talent is clearly evident, but he also seems to be taking to coach John Calipari’s motivational efforts.
“I could see it in (Calipari’s) face how bad he wanted to win,” Evans said of the Tennessee matchup. “I think he’s probably happier than us.”
Evans went 7-for-16 from the field, but his teammates combined to shoot 30.0 percent (12-for-40) against a Volunteers defense that has struggled all season.
Memphis, though, fared better at the free-throw line, making 78.6 percent (11-of-14). The Tigers are shooting a league-worst 59.1 percent from the foul line in Conference USA play.
East Carolina, meanwhile, hit four free throws in the final 25 seconds to seal an 80-74 win over Southern Methodist on Saturday. The Pirates had lost three straight, averaging 66.0 points.
Darrius Morrow scored 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead East Carolina. The freshman forward is one of four East Carolina players averaging double figures in scoring, posting 10.4 points per game.
Senior guard Sam Hinnant, who tops the Pirates with 15.1 points a contest, had 12 on 4-for-11 shooting. He scored 22 points in a loss to Houston last Wednesday.
Hinnant is averaging 8.5 points and shooting 38.9 percent (7-for-18) in two games against Memphis.