MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Another close win for Memphis. And more discomfort for Tigers coach Josh Pastner.
Tarik Black had 12 points and seven rebounds and No. 21 Memphis survived another scare before beating East Carolina 61-58 Saturday in the Conference USA opener for both teams.
"I don't want to keep winning like this," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said of the close games. "It's not healthy."
The win wasn't assured until the Tigers' Chris Crawford stole the ball with time running out as the Pirates had a chance to tie the game.
"We should have won this game," East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo said. "It's frustrating. We had some tough calls go against us. We had some balls in some areas, and we didn't finish."
Will Coleman added 11 points for the Tigers (12-3, 1-0), who did not have a field goal in the final 5:23 of the game, and didn't help themselves by hitting on 6 of their 11 free throws over that stretch.
That allowed the Pirates (8-7, 0-1) to stay within striking distance. East Carolina had a chance at the last shot to tie the game. But Chris Crawford stole the ball on the possession, ending the threat.
Darrius Morrow led East Carolina with 17 points and eight rebounds, while Jamar Abrams added 15. Brock Young scored 10 for East Carolina, which lost its second straight.
Memphis has had close wins against Arkansas State, Austin Peay and Tennessee State recently, and was embarrassed in its last outing — a 104-84 loss to rival Tennessee.
"Honestly, we're inexperienced," freshman point guard Joe Jackson said. "I feel like if I was a sophomore or junior, then I could speak on why we are going through these problems. But I don't even know.
"I'm trying my best out there. My team, our coaches, everybody is trying our hardest. Eventually, hard work is going to pay off."
Pastner said he was worried about an emotional hangover from the Tennessee game.
"I thought we were a little tight. How could you not be?" Pastner said. "You've got a totally inexperienced team, and you come off, not a good game, and there's a lot of negative energy around.
"It was normal that you're going to be a little bit tight."
Memphis has never lost to the Pirates, and East Carolina was trying to win for the first time after 43 straight road losses against ranked teams. The Pirates' last win over a ranked opponent was at home in December, 2002 defeating then-No. 13 Marquette.
Memphis led 33-21 at halftime after holding the Pirates scoreless almost 7 minutes midway through the first half. That helped Memphis score 12 unanswered points and erase an early lead.
The Pirates hit their first four shots as Memphis seemed sluggish getting to the perimeter. But the Tigers finally awoke with a push of energy.
At halftime, Memphis defense held East Carolina to 29 percent shooting and forced 12 turnovers.
The Pirates came out firing from long-range to get back into the game. East Carolina hit five of its first seven long-range shots, then put together six straight points to tie the game at 49 with just under 8 minutes left.
"When you're playing tough D and some shots happen to go in, it kind of shakes you a little bit," Coleman said. "It kind of breaks your confidence a little bit."
The teams were still tied at 56 with 3:50 left, but Memphis hit enough of its free throws down the stretch to hold off the Pirates.
"We grinded it out," Pastner said. "It's in conference. We grinded it out, and got the W."