East Carolina basketball coach Bill Herrion expects to find
out sometime today if Pirates senior point guard Travis Holcomb-Faye has
improved his academic standing to the point that the coach will allow him to
play tonight against Marquette, ranked No. 13 by the Associated Press last
Holcomb-Faye is eligible by NCAA standards but Herrion
imposed a suspension starting with the George Mason game on Dec. 19 until
his first ECU recruit resolved some scholastic issues.
Herrion has taken a stance regarding academic expectations
and that’s admirable, even though it definitely hinders the team’s
competitiveness. College sports, after all, start with college.
With Holcomb-Faye, the Pirates were 7-0 and matched the best
start in school history. Without him, they’re 1-2 with a 66-56 loss to
George Mason and, most recently, 90-71 losers at Coastal Carolina.
Holcomb-Faye is the school’s career assist leader and he
scored 15 points in last year’s 51-46 win in Greenville over Marquette,
which was then ranked No. 9. That was ECU’s first and only basketball win
over a Top 10 team.
Tonight's game was originally scheduled for March 5, during
ECU’s spring break, but was moved to avoid a conflict with the NCHSAA
Eastern regionals. It gives the Pirates a steep challenge in their
Conference USA opener.
“Obviously, it’s a conference game and that makes it more
important,” Herrion said. “Obviously, they’re ranked and that means it’s a
great opportunity for our basketball team.”
But, even if Holcomb-Faye is available there will be some
differences in this season’s matchup.
“Last year was our first time through Conference USA,”
Herrion said. “We were trying to figure out who we were and what we were
about. People realize our arena is a tough place to play and we’re not going
to sneak up on anybody this year. That’s an important thing that our guys
have got to realize.
“I think we earned some respect but the landscape is
different now. Obviously, we beat Marquette last year so I think they’ll be
more ready to play and respect us more this year.”
The Warriors, 8-1 with their only loss coming to Notre Dame,
are led by 6-foot-5, 210-pound shooting guard Dwayne Wade, who is leading
Conference USA with a 25.3-point scoring average.
“Obviously, they’re a heckuva basketball team,” Herrion
said. “We’re real concerned with Dwayne Wade. Arguably, he’s the best player
in the league. He’s a real handful and they’ve added a transfer, Robert
Jackson, who started as a sophomore and junior at Mississippi State. He’s a
big, wide body — a physical presence inside.”
Jackson (6-10, 260) is averaging 17.2 points and 8.8
rebounds. The Pirates will likely match up with junior college transfer
Derrick Wylie on Wade and junior forward Gabriel Mikulas on Jackson.
ECU freshman Belton Rivers will draw Marquette point guard
Travis Diener, who is averaging 9.9 points and 6.1 assists. Moussa Badiane,
ECU’s career leader in blocked shots, will guard Warriors forward Scott
Merritt, who is averaging 10.2 points and 7.1 rebounds.
Erroyl Bing of the Pirates will take sophomore forward Todd
Townsend in what projects as ECU’s toughest test this season.
Tom Crean has earned respect nationwide for his role in the
re-emergence of the Marquette program and is in his fourth year as Warriors
“They’re as well coached and disciplined, as fundamentally
sound and tough as anyone you’ll play against,” Herrion said. “They don’t
Notre Dame shot and made a lot of 3-pointers in turning back
the Warriors but Herrion won’t try to copy that approach.
“Our team the last two years took a lot of threes,” Herrion
said. “But our game plan is not going to change.”
Herrion would like to work inside-out, going first to his
experience in the frontcourt for offensive production.
The Pirates must also be ready mentally.
“I don’t know if we’ve played with the same energy or the
chip that we had the first seven games,” Herrion said. “That’s what we’ve
been talking about in practice the last several days. We’ve got to play with
that edge, that chip because we’re not going to out-talent anybody. We’ve
missed that the last few games and we’re trying to get that back.”
C-USA teams know more what to expect from ECU and the
Pirates know more about the challenges of the league.
“We were just trying to prove to ourselves that we belonged
in this league last year,” said the ECU coach. “We answered that — if we
play hard, compete and guard people. We want to take the next step and win
more games and it’s a real key to take care of the home court. This is a
real opportunity. I think we’re going to have a good crowd.”
Fans can buy a package deal that includes four tickets, four
soft drinks and four hot dogs for $50. The ticket office will be open this
morning (1-800-DIAL ECU or 328-4500 in the Greenville local calling area)
Still, the Pirates must regain something that has been
missing in the recent losses.
“I don’t know if it’s the holidays or what,” Herrion said.
“But we’ve got to get back to playing a certain way. That’s how we’re going
to be successful.”
Holcomb-Faye could provide a spark if he comes back.
“I’ve got to be convinced that he’s going to take care of
things he needs to take care of as we move on,” Herrion said. “Then I can
make a better decision as to whether he plays or not. ... If Holcomb-Faye is
out, we’re not going to fix that overnight. We become very young with him
out and that’s what we’re battling right now. Hopefully we can work through
it and get him back in the mix.”