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CHRONICLING EAST CAROLINA & CONFERENCE USA SPORTS
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View from the East
Friday, January 25, 2013

By Al Myatt

Al Myatt

Pirates prep for battle-tested UTEP

By Al Myatt
©2013 Bonesville.net
All rights reserved.

View the Mobile Alpha version of this page.

Like Marshall before its thrashing of East Carolina last Saturday night, Texas-El Paso has had an entire week to focus on its upcoming game with the Pirates after taking a 63-54 win at home over Southern Methodist. UTEP (10-7, 3-1 Conference USA) arrived in Greenville on Thursday. The Miners were scheduled to practice in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum today.

"They're a good team," ECU coach Jeff Lebo said. "They've had a really difficult schedule. They've got two guys who are starters who they just got eligible at the break. One of them is their leading scorer who is a graduate student transfer, Konner Tucker. Another starter, McKenzie Moore, those two guys missed their first seven games. They've made them a different team."

Tucker, who began his college career at Wake Forest, is averaging 12.6 points. Moore is averaging 7.3 points in 21.3 minutes.

"They've beat Oregon (91-84, Dec. 19 in El Paso)," Lebo noted. "Oregon is undefeated in the Pac-12. They should have beaten Vegas (60-62, Dec. 17). Vegas is having a great year. They've played really tough people. I've got a lot of respect for Coach (Tim) Floyd. I think he's one of the best coaches in the country."

Floyd, who has coached Iowa, Southern Cal and the Chicago Bulls, and assistant Phil Johnson were each ejected in their last trip to Greenville in an 83-76 ECU win on Feb. 23, 2011. The Miners topped the Pirates 70-56 last season in El Paso.

"We're going to see a lot of different types of defenses from UTEP," Lebo said. "You never know with Coach Floyd what you can expect. He throws it all at you — junk defenses, triangle and twos, box and ones. He guards ball screens differently. They pressure you. To prepare for them is hard because you don't know what they'll throw at you. You add to that the week off, and, with him, he could put in five different defenses in that week.

"Offensively, they execute awfully well. Their two guards — Konner Tucker is a terrific shooter from three, 51 percent and (Jacques) Streeter, their point guard, who wasn't a terrific shooter last year, is really shooting the ball well from three (46.3 percent). There's a senior and a graduate student in the backcourt. ... They've got some experience in the guard spots and some toughness there."

On a day when Lebo's alma mater (North Carolina) plays at N.C. State, the Pirates coach also will have to deal with the progeny of former Wolfpack player Chris Washburn.

"Both of Chris Washburn's sons play for them," Lebo said. "Julian Washburn is a sophomore and Chris Washburn is a freshman there."

Julian Washburn averages 12.2 points and his brother averages 5.2.

"They're a top 75 in the RPI (ratings power index)," Lebo said. "They're a good team who have played a ton of good people here early. They're playing great right now. They stumbled on the road at Tulsa (42-45, Jan. 16) where they didn't shoot it particularly well. They've got good balance, too. They've got four guys who are averaging close to double figures."

Pirates regrouped at UAB

There wasn't an overabundance of optimism for East Carolina's chances at Alabama-Birmingham on Wednesday night, not after the Pirates had fallen behind 18-2 four nights earlier at Marshall and absorbed a 77-56 setback.

When Shamarr Bowden sustained back spasms on game day and was ruled unavailable, the situation looked even bleaker.

The circumstances didn't seem to indicate that ECU's 1,000th win in its 80-year hoops history was imminent.

But Lebo has developed the quality of resiliency in the program. It helped the Pirates win three of four at the close of last season after a five-game losing streak.

Lebo was back in his office Thursday morning after a charter flight home following a 91-85 win at UAB. Unlike previous C-USA wins over Central Florida and Houston, this one didn't require a dramatic rally.

"I thought our mindset was better," Lebo said. "We showed a little bit more grit and toughness to start the game the right way, with more energy. We didn't let things happen. We kind of made things happen. We got off to a good start and that was obviously a key for us."

Paris Roberts-Campbell stepped up in Bowden's absence to drop four of five from behind the arc. Roberts-Campbell was just 15 for 53 (28.3 percent) from long distance coming into the game.

"It was great to see, finally," Lebo said. "He's been really struggling shooting the ball and he really shot it well. He took it to the basket once or twice. He's always accountable and dependable defensively. Without Shamarr, it was big for Paris to come in and play the way he did."

Lebo said Bowden's status for Saturday's 7 p.m. game for Texas-El Paso was uncertain as of Thursday morning.

"The trainer worked on him all day (Wednesday) trying to get him ready for the game and he couldn't straighten up and get comfortable and ready to move so we'll look at him here the next day or two and see how he feels," said the Pirates coach.

Small forward Erin Sraughn has already been ticketed for a redshirt season with a leg ailment.

Ty Armstrong was another force for the Pirates with 18 points and 10 rebounds, both team highs.

"He played great," Lebo said. "It was the most he's played (32 minutes) and the best he's played. In conference play, he's doing a better job of rebounding the ball for us."

Armstrong has grabbed an average of 8.4 boards in the Pirates' 3-2 start in the league. Only once before, in Lebo's first season at ECU in 2010-11, have the Pirates fared as well through five games in their 12 seasons in C-USA.

A knee injury in his freshman season at Auburn when Lebo was coaching in the SEC limited Armstrong at the outset of his college career. He had to sit out a season after transferring to ECU.

"He really hasn't played in college," Lebo said. "I think he's getting more and more comfortable here, learning what it's about and also getting in game shape to be able to be effective. He played major minutes. 18 and 10 is a big night. ... He was a man in that game. We certainly needed everything that we could get out of him."

Maurice Kemp had 17 points and seven rebounds for the Pirates. Miguel Paul had 12 points and an incredible 14 assists. That's a great week for most point guards, but that's what happens when Roberts-Campbell and Akeem Richmond (4-for-6 on 3-pointers) are dialed in. Robert Sampson had 10 points and seven boards, making it difficult for the Blazers to sag off anyone defensively.

UAB was 7-1 at home, the only loss to Memphis (53-69, Jan. 12).

League affiliation remains in limbo

ECU is scheduled to join the Big East in football in 2014. Although an all-sports invitation to the Big East has been termed a likelihood, Lebo isn't using such reports on the recruiting trail.

"From a recruiting standpoint, we just tell them what we know at this time," said the Pirates coach. "To try to handicap it or figure out what's going to happen next or where the dominoes are going to fall or what league we're going to be in, we know right now we're in Conference USA next year.

"We don't really know what's going to happen and I don't think anybody knows eventually what's going to happen here. When you think there's going to be some clarity and it's going to calm down, something else happens and it's another earthquake. It shakes up the conference universe again.

"When is it going to happen again? Who knows?"

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01/25/2013 03:39 AM
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