The energy that the University of Memphis displayed against Tennessee's Vols seemed to flow right through the first half of the Tigers' Conference USA opener against the East Carolina Pirates on Wednesday night.
For the first 20 minutes, overwhelmed would be the best word to describe the Pirates.
Memphis ran out to a big lead. And between the Pirates' terrible shooting (30 percent and as low as 15 percent with six minutes remaining in the half) and costly turnovers (12), the Tigers were able to mount a 39-19 lead heading into the locker room at halftime.
Despite the halftime deficit, ECU had started to show signs of life, ending the period on a 7-0 run. ECU coach Jeff Lebo must have given a rousing pep talk during the break because the Pirates continued that run, scoring the first 14 points of the second half and completing a 21-0 run. With two-and-a-half minutes gone in the second half, Memphis' lead shrank to six (39-33).
The momentum had definitely shifted in the Pirates favor, but ultimately the Tigers were able to keep ECU from turning the tables. And that was due largely to the outstanding play of Memphis' starting point guard Joe Jackson.
Jackson recorded 15 points (team leading), 4 rebounds, and 3 assists, while pacing the Tigers to a 67-54 win in their conference opener. This marks ten straight games that Jackson has scored double digits.
Jackson started off the year a little sluggish, but he has definitely been the key cog in the Memphis machine. Teammate Adonis Thomas called Jackson the "floor general," adding that he has "total faith when he (Jackson) has the ball in his hands."
The praise didn't stop there. Freshman Shaq Goodwin noted that Jackson "has been staying late after practice and working hard."
That extra effort seems to be paying off. Coach Josh Pastner even chimed in: "Right now, Joe's approach to the game is solid."
The Tigers' most recent victory increases their win streak to five, as they prepare to head to Birmingham this Saturday to take on the UAB Blazers. Pastner knows that this will be a tough road test.
"This is conference," said Postner, meaning that when the Tigers go on the road it's like the opposing team's "Super Bowl or World Series."
Pastner is right. UAB is another rivalry game for Memphis and in those types of games stats and records go out the window. Everyone in the conference wants to beat the team on top, and in the C-USA that has long been the Tigers.
It would behoove Memphis – and the True Blue Nation – not to peek ahead each next game.
The Tigers controlled the tempo of the game against their in-state rivals, the Tennessee Volunteers, last Friday. Despite a late rally by Tennessee, Memphis recorded its first road win (85-80).
For the foreseeable future, the game might be the last for these familiar foes for a while. Pastner doesn't want to renew the contract, but the Tigers' newly appointed athletic director, Tom Bowen, seems to have other ideas.
It will definitely be interesting to see how it plays out; however, that is a whole other story in itself. For now, the Tigers are just happy to have the last win in the series. (Actually the last three!)