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View from the East
Monday, March 3, 2003

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Progress comes in small steps in daunting league

State Line Hoops Report©: Crazy days have arrived

©2003 Bonesville.net

East Carolina started the basketball season with a goal of postseason play, the NIT or the NCAA Tournament. When the record was 7-0 and later 10-2 there was a perception that the program had turned a big corner.

The subsequent reality of the rigors of competition in Conference USA showed that the Pirates still aren’t there.

Gradually the goals changed to making the Conference USA Tournament and having a winning season, neither of which will happen — and yet there is reason to be optimistic about the future.

The basis for that optimism is the man at the controls, Coach Bill Herrion. Despite what might be perceived as a midseason demise this season, he has a grasp of where the program is, where it needs to go and a willingness to work as hard as he has to in order to make it happen. He and assistant Greg Herenda were in the ECU basketball office Sunday night working on recruiting.

Few people in college athletics are into taking solace in losing to heavily favored opponents by narrow margins and Herrion is no exception, but close games at Cincinnati and Louisville this week represent progress.

“Obviously, what we can’t get caught up with is settling for moral victories,” Herrion said. “We’re trying to win every single game we play but from the coaching standpoint you have to look at the big picture. A year ago we lost at Louisville by 33 and at Cincinnati by 27. Some people might say those teams are down a little but I think we’re a little better, too.”

Still, ECU has lost 12 of its last 14 games.

“The frustrating thing is that the kids are playing hard,” Herrion said. “And we’ve played better basketball the last couple of weeks. We don’t have anything to show for it. That’s the frustrating thing.”

The Pirates close out the regular season at 11 a.m. on Saturday with a home game against Saint Louis. The students will be on spring break this week which will allow the team to practice early in the day so Herrion can make some relatively short recruiting trips at night. Herrion plans to go to a junior college tournament in Kansas on Saturday night after the Saint Louis game and be there most of next week.

ECU has signed forward Keith Foster of Winston-Salem Reynolds but whether he will qualify academically is questionable. If Foster qualifies, Herrion said the Pirates will have two more scholarships. If Foster doesn’t make it, there will be three grants available.

ECU will go after a point guard with Travis Holcomb-Faye finishing his eligibility, and more scoring help from the perimeter. The offensive needs from outside are similar to last year when ECU brought in freshman guard Belton Rivers and junior college transfers Luke MacKay and Derrick Wiley. Rivers was plagued by inconsistency in his first year on the college level, MacKay’s mobility has been hindered by injuries and Wiley is a scorer although not a great shooter.

One thing ECU did early this year was win non-conference games and the Pirates snapped a winless string on the road with wins at Middle Tennessee State, Radford and Old Dominion..

“Before the season we had to prove we could win non-conference games and we did that,” Herrion said.

The Pirates had wins over Ole Miss, Old Dominion and Virginia Tech and opened C-USA play with a stunning 73-70 win over Marquette.

“I think we got knocked back on our rear ends a little bit with the road game at Charlotte and the home game with Louisville,” Herrion said. “Those games knocked us back and took our confidence. What we really are finding out is that it’s really a tough league. If people who follow our basketball team don’t realize that then they’re missing something.

“This league collectively may be better than last year.”

Another factor that hindered the Pirates was the absence of senior point guard Holcomb-Faye for five games due to an academic suspension. His absence coincided with losses to George Mason and Coastal Carolina. When the coach suspends his only senior, there are obviously questions about the upperclassman’s leadership.

Last year, the Pirates may have taken a few teams by surprise in C-USA.

“The second time through people were more prepared and we didn’t sneak up on anybody,” Herrion said. “We’re not there yet. We need to continue recruiting. We need to continue getting better people.”

The Pirates will also work to develop the players on hand for the 2003-04 season.

“A couple of our guys did not have great offensive years,” Herrion said. “Erroyl Bing had 37 threes last year. This year he’s made eight. We went through a very difficult offensive year. We told Gabriel Mikulas late in the season that he couldn’t lock in the low post with his back to the basket. He had to step away and face up.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do with individual players. Moussa Badiane has got to get stronger.”

Herrion also must maintain his focus in directing the program.

“If I give in to the frustration then we’re never going to get it done,” said the ECU coach. “I know people are disappointed or frustrated over the last month and a half. No one is more disappointed or frustrated than me. It’s just an unbelievable building process. It might be tougher than I ever thought it would be.”

Reason for optimism

Conference USA, which may well be a stronger league than the ACC this season, will do away with its divisional format next year. As a result, ECU will face a more representative schedule that is not top-loaded with its American Division murderer's row of Cincinnati, Louisville and Marquette.

The Pirates will still play those schools at least once per season but will also have at least one yearly contest against every other team in the conference, including those that are currently in the weaker National Division.

Carolinas: Crazy days have arrived

March Madness. Check the calendar. It appears to have already started. It’s as good an explanation as any for the Duke collapse at Madison Square Garden on Sunday which finished with St. John’s going on a 12-0 run for a 72-71 win. North Carolina rallied from a 10-point second-half deficit against Georgia Tech and N.C. State was unable to hold off Maryland down the stretch on Sunday. Despite those unpredictable conclusions, the Top 10 in the State Line Hoops Report remains relatively stable. Let’s take a look.


STATE LINE HOOPS REPORT©

The Top Ten

  1. Wake Forest (21-4, 11-3 ACC) ... Josh Howard scored 29 points in an 80-68 win over Clemson on Saturday as the Deacons maintained first place in the ACC. Howard hit a career high six three-pointers in Wake’s fourth straight ACC win. The Deacons host North Carolina at 9 p.m. on Wednesday and play at N.C. State at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.
  2. Duke (20-4, 10-4 ACC) ... Marcus Hatten of St. John’s hit a free throw with no time left to give the Red Storm a 72-71 win as the Blue Devils were scoreless over the last four minutes while St. John’s went on a 12-0 run. Hatten had 29 points in the win while Dahntay Jones led Duke with 23. The Blue Devils host Florida State at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday and visit North Carolina at 4 p.m. on Sunday.
  3. N.C. State (15-10, 8-6 ACC) ... The Wolfpack yielded career win No. 500 for Maryland coach Gary Williams in dramatic fashion as Drew Nicholas dropped a three-pointer with 1.5 seconds left to top NCSU 68-65 in Raleigh. State led by 10 points early in the second half. State had a string of 34 made free throws halted in the first half. The Pack plays at Clemson at 7 p.m. on Wednesday and hosts Wake Forest at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.
  4. UNC Wilmington (19-6, 13-3 Colonial) ... Despite playing on a sprained left ankle, Seahawks senior guard Brett Blizzard had 26 points, seven assists and four steals in an 80-63 win over Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday. UNCW has a first round bye in the CAA Tournament in Richmond this week and will play on Saturday at noon. The Seahawks host William & Mary for Senior Night at 7 p.m. tonight.
  5. North Carolina (15-13, 5-9 ACC) ... The Tar Heels kept Georgia Tech winless on the road by rallying from 10 points down in the second half to win 67-66 as Raymond Felton made two free throws with 7.7 seconds left to finish with a game-high 19 points. UNC visits Wake Forest at 9 p.m. on Wednesday and hosts Duke at 4 p.m. on Sunday.
  6. South Carolina (12-13, 5-9 SEC) ... Carlos Powell scored 21 points in a 76-64 win over visiting Vanderbilt on Saturday. The Gamecocks play at Alabama at 8 p.m. on Wednesday and host Georgia at noon on Sunday.
  7. Charlotte (13-13, 8-6 C-USA) ... The 49ers topped DePaul 58-50 on Saturday as freshman Curtis Withers scored 12 points. Charlotte missed its first 15 shots and trailed 12-0. Charlotte caps the regular season at Saint Louis at 8:10 p.m. on Wednesday and at Louisville at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
  8. Clemson (15-10, 5-9 ACC) ... Edward Scott’s 27 points weren’t enough in an 80-68 loss at Wake Forest on Saturday. The Tigers host N.C. State at 7 p.m. on Wednesday and visit Georgia Tech at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.
  9. College of Charleston (23-6, 13-3 Southern) ... The Cougars topped Georgia Southern 73-71 on Saturday as Mike Benton led the way with 17 points. Coach Tom Herrion’s club is the No. 1 seed from the South Division for the Southern Conference Tournament and will play at noon on Thursday at the North Charleston (S.C.) Coliseum against Wednesday’s winner between Georgia Southern and Western Carolina.
  10. Davidson (17-9, 11-5 Southern) ... The Wildcats whipped VMI 84-49 on Saturday as Conor Grace had 21 points and 14 rebounds. Davidson is the defending Southern Conference Tournament champion and has earned the top seed from the Northern Division. The Wildcats play the Furman-VMI winner at 6 p.m. on Thursday.
The Not-So-Sweet 17

11. East Carolina (12-14, 3-12 C-USA) ... The Pirates were more competitive on the road this week but couldn’t avoid falling to 0-16 in Conference USA road games over the last two seasons with a 53-52 loss at Cincinnati on Wednesday night and an 82-76 loss at Louisville on Saturday. ECU hosts Saint Louis at 11 a.m. on Saturday with a special deal for fans — four tickets, four hot dogs and four soft drinks for $40.

12. Appalachian State
13. Wofford
14. Winthrop
15. Furman
16. Charleston Southern
17. South Carolina State
18. Coastal Carolina
19. Elon
20. UNC Asheville
21. UNC Greensboro
22. Western Carolina
23. Gardner-Webb
24. The Citadel
25. High Point
26. Campbell
27. N.C. A&T

Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.

Click here to dig into Al Myatt's Bonesville archives.

02/23/2007 12:40:53 AM
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