College Sports in the Carolinas
Don't miss Al Myatt's
profile of ECU Chancellor Steven Ballard in the current
from the East
February 14, 2005
By Al Myatt
Opportunities dwindling to
Would have. Could have. Should have.
No doubt those phrases were uttered with a
high degree of regularity as East Carolina fans left Williams Arena at
Minges Coliseum on Saturday night after seeing Marquette erase a 7-point
deficit in the last two minutes of regulation play to
top the Pirates 71-69 in overtime.
ECU managed to stay within striking distance
despite shooting just 25.9 percent in the first half. It was a disappointing
start considering ECU had a week to rest and prepare for the Golden Eagles.
Down 29-22 at the break, the Pirates trailed by as many as 12 points early
in the second half.
Listen to postgame comments of Bill Herrion, Mike Cook,
Corey Rouse, Tom Crean and Travis Diener after
Marquette's overtime win over ECU:
Select Audio Clips
"We were very confused," said ECU coach Bill
Herrion. "We just did not attack their zone well in the first half."
An 18-5 ECU run that started with 7:24 left in
regulation seemingly put the Pirates in control with a 63-56 lead with 2:52
"Like we typically do in this building,
because there is so much energy and the crowd gets behind you, we started
making a run," said the ECU coach. "We started guarding better and obviously
we put the ball in the bucket."
The Pirates heated up to hit 68.2 percent (15
for 22) of their field goal attempts in the second half.
While ECU began finding the range against
Golden Eagles defenders, there were difficulties hitting unguarded 15
footers — specifically free throws. The Pirates were 9 of 18 at the line in
the second half — 50 percent — and that wasn't good enough to put Marquette
Corey Rouse in particular struggled at the
stripe, going one for four on foul shots in the final minute of regulation
when any one of his misses might have been enough to keep a Conference USA
win from slipping out of ECU's grasp.
That's not to say Rouse choked, even though he
barely drew iron on a couple of tries, going 4 of 12 at the line for the
game. The junior forward is just an extremely poor free throw shooter,
hitting just 46.6 percent for his college career. ECU's lack of depth
doesn't allow C-USA's top rebounder to sit when foul shots become crucial.
"Foul shots killed us," lamented sophomore
guard Mike Cook, who led ECU with 21 points.
"Gotta make free throws," Herrion said. "Free
throw line accuracy really hurt us. We had a few opportunities to really put
it away from the free throw line and we didn't."
ECU missed its chances to decide the outcome.
Marquette, which had lost on its two previous trips to Greenville, did not.
Ultimately the Pirates had no answer for
Marquette senior guard Travis Diener, who assisted on Steve Novak's
3-pointer with 3.6 seconds left in regulation that sent the game to
overtime. Diener later squared up from 18 feet on the right wing to knock
down the game winner with 2.6 seconds left in the extra period.
Diener had 31 points in 44 minutes although he
supposedly is not full strength from an ankle injury that sidelined him
earlier this season.
One might wonder why ECU didn't try the box
and one on Diener that worked effectively earlier this season on Brendan
Plavich and Charlotte.
"When you let a kid like Diener hang around
crazy things are going to happen," Herrion said. "He's a great player. He's
done it his whole career. He hasn't done it just against East Carolina. He's
done it against a lot of people.
"When they shoot the three as well as they do,
Novak and Diener — they're just such a dangerous basketball team."
Marquette coach Tom Crean credited ECU's
"They play very hard," said the Golden Eagles
coach. "From one to 10 if 10 is playing hardest, they're at nine or 10 all
the time and that's very hard to do."
Despite ECU's effort, a lack of execution down
the stretch was costly. In the big picture the Pirates missed a chance to
enhance their position for a berth in the C-USA Tournament in Memphis. The
top 12 teams in the standings of the league's 14 basketball-playing members
get invited to the league's preliminary to the NCAA's Big Dance.
South Florida and Tulane each fell to 3-8 in
C-USA with losses prior to ECU's game on Saturday. The Pirates were in prime
position to improve to 3-8 themselves but instead fell to 2-9 to remain in
13th place in the standings.
The Pirates have five league games left. ECU
visits UAB on Wednesday and has a huge matchup at South Florida at 7 p.m. on
Saturday. The Pirates return home to host Southern Miss (1-10) at 7 p.m. on
Wednesday, Feb. 23 and Houston at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 26.
Then ECU has a week off before closing the
regular season at Tulane at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 5. Every game is
humongous for the Pirates' league tournament aspirations even as Herrion
continually reminds us that, "the margin of error in this league is just so
One wonders how small the margin of error may
be in terms of job security for ECU's program leader, whose team is 7-16 and
virtually assured of a sixth straight losing season under his guidance. His
contract runs through 2008.
Fortunately, fan support has not diminished.
An attendance figure of 6,160 was announced for the Marquette game, one of
the better crowds of the season. Every space in the lower parking lot off
Charles Street was filled.
Herrion talks about his team's youth and
inexperience but effective coaches anticipate graduation losses and recruit
to fill them ahead of time. Academics, injuries and transfers have
interfered with personnel plans, leaving Herrion looking at an inordinate
number of true freshmen in his current rotation.
The Pirates put themselves in position to
improve their chances for the league tournament and failed on Saturday
night. That didn't help the questions swirling within the fan base about
Herrion's job security. Athletic director Terry Holland and chancellor Steve
Ballard are the only ones who know the answer there — and they aren't
If ECU doesn't make the league tournament this
season that will be a sign of slippage from last year's performance. Also to
be considered is the change in membership in C-USA next season which should
allow the Pirates to be more competitive in hoops. Certainly, the Pirates
should be more experienced next season, barring unforeseen transfers or
injuries. Forward David Bell from LaSalle and guard Jeremy Ingram from Wake
Forest are waiting to become eligible.
The loss to Marquette was unfortunate but the
Pirates can't afford to dwell on it. There are important games remaining
that will be significant in determining the program's future.
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02/23/2007 12:33:03 AM