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View from the East
Monday, February 9, 2004

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Pirates anxious to produce more than thrills

CyberEast of New Bern

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There were some enduring images in East Carolina’s 96-90 overtime loss to Charlotte on Saturday night.

One was Pirates coach Bill Herrion on the sideline when Brendan Plavich of the 49ers appeared to double dribble late in the game. Herrion, clad in white sneakers with a shirt and tie, went prancing along the sideline making an exaggerated signal for the violation.

Buy Brian Bailey or Billy Weaver a hamburger if they got that for the 11 o’clock.

Herrion was actually smiling, too. Maybe he was trying to call the officials’ attention to the situation as nicely as possible without showing them up.

Or maybe the smile was because Herrion couldn’t believe the three-man crew could miss such an apparently obvious call. Or maybe he’s like the guy who said he was laughing to keep from crying.

It’s been that kind of season for him. The biggest break the Pirates have gotten was a bad one — when starting center Gabriel Mikulas fractured his right arm in mid-January.

The crew in stripes saw 66 fouls, but the infraction that momentarily inspired the mime in Bill Herrion somehow escaped detection.

Many coaches, by the way, wore sneakers on Saturday as part of a fund-raising effort for Coaches Against Cancer. Herrion looked like a frat boy. Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz wore black sneakers so his weren’t so obvious.

Back to the images. There was ECU senior Derrick Wiley poised at the line with 10.8 seconds left in regulation with two free throws and a chance to put an upset on ice for the Pirates. He missed both to set up another Kodak moment in a frantic sequence on the Charlotte offensive end.

Plavich, who had 10 three-pointers when the 49ers won at defending NCAA champ Syracuse early in the season and who apparently has the green light from anywhere inside 35 feet, fired from behind the arc and in front of the Charlotte bench. The carom went high on the right side and 49ers guard Demon Brown went up strong amid the bodies trying to snatch the game-clinching rebound to deflect the ball with both hands toward the hoop. The force that Brown applied was like that of a volleyball set.

As the bodies seeking the rebound descended, 49ers reserve forward Calvin Clemmons rose into view like one of those monsters in the horror movies who moves above the skyline as frightened citizens seek cover below. Clemmons tracked the ball like a hawk zeroing in on prey. From his clutches, he decisively powered it through the rim from point-blank range for a tie score at 80.

There was an overtime, of course, after the officials made sure in a videotape review that Clemmons’ feat had beaten the buzzer. Too bad they didn’t rewind it to Plavich’s double dribble.

Two nearly-identical medium range jumpers by Charlotte’s Curtis Withers staked the 49ers to a 4-point lead in the extra period and helped the 49ers escape the pitfalls of Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum which have ensnared Louisville and Marquette in recent seasons.

There were some eye-opening statistics, too. Like Wiley’s 2-for-17 effort from the floor. His shooting touch suddenly turned into a Phil Niekro knuckleball with Charlotte junior Eddie Basden defending him like he was Wiley’s Siamese twin. Basden did everything for the Niners but drive the bus home as he also scored a career-high 27 points, including 4-for-4 from behind the arc.

ECU was 8-0 going into the game when scoring 70 or more points and should have gone to 9-0.

Against Charlotte’s aggressive defensive pressure, ECU only had 11 turnovers in 45 minutes. That’s down significantly from an earlier 85-69 loss at Charlotte in which the Pirates committed 22.

“We should have won this game,” said stringy Moussa Badiane, who led ECU with 20 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.

Ultimately, Charlotte’s composure was a narrow winner over ECU’s hostile environment.

For those who weren’t in the building, the bottom line may simply be an “L” for the Pirates. But for those who were there it was a great show, a fact that wasn’t lost on Lutz when he was asked if ECU and Charlotte will continue to play when the 49ers leave for the Atlantic 10 in 2005-06.

“To be honest we may not play every year but we want to continue playing,” Lutz said. “We also want to continue playing Marquette, DePaul and Cincinnati so it may not work out every year, but it’s worth considering.”

The 49ers didn’t just dodge a bullet on Saturday night. Somehow they sidestepped a guided missile.

“ECU played so well,” Lutz said. “It was a shame they had to lose.”

Herrion has experienced the mixed emotions of pride and disappointment a lot in 2003-04. Pride stems from continuing effort despite adversity, but he’s disappointed the Pirates haven’t come away with more wins in the close ones.

“We’ve been down this road so many times before,” he said. “There obviously are no moral victories. The kids played their hearts out and played their guts out. But those things are supposed to be constants in this program. The difference is we don’t play real smart at times and that’s the reason maybe that we don’t have a few more Conference USA wins.”

Herrion put his hands on different levels to illustrate where the Pirates used to be in terms of competing against the 49ers, who have won all six of their league games in three seasons with ECU.

“It used to be that they were too athletic, too physical and too talented for us,” Herrion said. “I don’t think that’s the case anymore.”

It’s Memphis’ turn to strut and fret in ECU’s arena on Wednesday night.

Regardless of what ECU’s 1-8 league record may indicate, the 6,017 fans at the Charlotte game on Saturday night have come to appreciate home games as interactive theater. The best opponents tend to bring out the best in the Pirates. Noisy support energizes the players and gives them a chance against anybody.

“Welcome to the Jungle” is indeed an appropriate theme song. Forgive anyone who forgets where they are and asks one of the alluring Solid Gold dancers for a lap dance. There’s this new thing, too, with the cheerleader who uncrosses his arms and jumpstomps with such finality at the close of timeouts after his shoulder-shaking buddy directs the student section into a frenzy.

ECU has two games left at home that could well determine if the Pirates will squeeze into the league tournament in Cincinnati on March 10-13. Tulane visits at 7 p.m. on Feb. 18 and South Florida comes in at 1 p.m. on Feb. 28.

The top 12 in the league standings qualify for the conference tournament so those games could be huge in avoiding those season-ending bottom two slots. The Pirates also will host Texas Christian at 7 p.m. on Feb. 21.

There’s a balance at work for ECU despite losses in nine of the last 10 games. What the Pirates have lacked in good fortune, they tend to make up for with excitement. They were entertaining on Saturday night, even if they didn’t win, and perhaps the Pirates can do better than thrilling defeats in the remaining weeks.

Maybe there’s a philosophical question there somewhere. Like, what’s more fun, a win over Gardner-Webb or a matchup like the Charlotte game on Saturday night?

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

02/23/2007 12:45:03 AM

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