ECU started the second half down one, 28-27, before Ty Armstrong hit a free throw for the Pirates to tie the game. From then on, the Tigers (17-3, 6-0) used a spree of three-point shots to take control of the game.
Memphis, led by point guard Joe Jackson, when on a 12-2 run six minutes into the second half with four crucial three-pointers. Jackson hit two of the four and both Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson hit one to distance the Tigers from the hometown Pirates.
Jackson finished with a game-high 26 points and a perfect 4-4 from long range and 6-6 from the free throw line. It was his steady shooting that kept control away from the Pirates.
"Joe [Jackson] is playing at such a high level right now," said Memphis coach Josh Pastner. "Part of our success is because of Joe's play."
But yet, as the game winded down, ECU gave itself the chance to win the game. Akeem Richmond hit two three-pointers in the final two minutes to pull the Pirates within eight. ECU fought its way to be down four, and just couldn't hit the shot to get any closer. Richmond, the team's premier three-point shooter, missed the mark and as the clocked ran down Memphis padded the lead and escaped with a win.
"Everyone is good. East Carolina is really good," said Pastner. "The league doesn't get respect and credit for it."
In the game's opening half, the Pirates came out swinging. They did not trail in the game's first 13 minutes, thanks in part to a few Richmond three's and poor free throw shooting from the Tiger's Tarik Black (0-4 in that stretch).
A fastbreak dunk by Memphis's Shaq Goodwin tied the game at 13 with eight minutes remaining in the first half. From there, the battle was on. In the final minutes, the lead changed five times as Jackson and Miguel Paul traded points from the one spot.
With a minute remaining, the Tigers nursed a three-point lead thanks to an Adonis Thomas dunk. ECU's Paris Roberts-Campbell hit a jumper to pull within one, but Maurice Kemp missed a last second shot to go into the half trailing.
"We gave ourselves a chance," said Paul. "That's all you want to do, especially with the injuries and Shamarr [Bowden] being out."
Armstrong led the team with 18 points and nine rebounds, followed by Paul (15 points, six assists and two rebounds) and Kemp (13 points, four assists and seven rebounds). The Pirates were out-rebounded 49-33 by Memphis but turned the ball over less (11-19) and scored more points in the paint (42-36).
The game leaves the Pirates (12-8, 3-4) on a two-game losing streak with nine games remaining. ECU will look to bounce back on Feb. 2 sshen they play at Rice. Tip off is set for 8 p.m.