GREENVILLE, N.C. -- Jontae Sherrod scored a career-high 28 points while fellow senior Jamar Abrams hit two huge 3-pointers during the decisive second-half run to help East Carolina beat Memphis 68-57 on Wednesday night, guaranteeing the Pirates their first winning season in 14 years.
Abrams scored eight of his 11 points in the final 6½ minutes for the Pirates (16-13, 8-7 Conference USA), who added another big win to an already successful first season under coach Jeff Lebo. It was East Carolina's first win against the Tigers (21-9, 9-6) in 10 tries, though this win will be remembered more for ensuring the long-struggling program will finish with a winning record for the first time since 1997.
East Carolina closes the regular season at UAB on Saturday.
Antonio Barton scored 15 to lead the Tigers, who shot just 39 percent and couldn't get a defensive stop in the decisive possessions.
When the horn sounded, East Carolina senior Brock Young flung the ball skyward and jumped into the arms of teammate Corvonn Gaines at midcourt. A few minutes later, the Pirates made their way around Minges Coliseum to celebrate with the rowdy student section and give high-fives to fans on their way to the locker room.
It was a fitting way to cap a tight game that saw East Carolina knock down the huge shots that had traditionally never seemed to fall here.
With the Pirates holding a 49-46 lead with 6½ minutes left, Abrams -- who was just 1-for-5 shooting to that point -- hit a hurried 3-pointer over D.J. Stephens to beat the shot clock and send the home crowd into an ear-ringing roar.
Then, after Tarik Black made a free throw, Abrams took a feed from Erin Straughn, calmly stepped back behind the arc and launched another 3 over Stephens that dropped through the net to push the lead to 55-47 with 5:26 left.
Straughn, a sophomore reserve, came up with a critical play during the run, grabbing an airballed shot in the paint from Darrius Morrow as the shot clock wound down and kicking it out to Sherrod. The senior got the ball off just before the clock expired and buried the 3, pushing the lead to 58-47 with 4:27 left.
That was more than enough cushion down the stretch, as Pirates fans spent the last 3 minutes savoring the victory in a roar.
Morrow added 11 for East Carolina, which shot just 40 percent but made 21 of 29 free throws.
As for Memphis, this certainly wasn't the kind of performance it needed to bolster its case for a bid to the NCAA tournament. The Tigers lost by 15 at Rice on Feb. 19 and were coming off a 74-47 loss at UTEP over the weekend to stumble into March.