Can the East Carolina basketball team
deliver an encore after its landmark 75-69 win over N.C. State on Dec.
The Pirates have been focused on exams, getting some needed time for
healing and refining their halfcourt game since the
inspiring triumph over the Wolfpack.
UNC Wilmington will provide the opposition as ECU's two-week break comes
to an end on Saturday night at 7 p.m. in Williams Arena at Minges
The Pirates had to practice at the campus recreation center immediately
following their exam break.
"We were out of our building for three days so we had to be creative
during those three days for graduation," said ECU coach Mack McCarthy.
"We've gotten back after it starting on Sunday. We focused on some
things we needed to get better at and I think we've made some progress."
Specifically, the Pirates worked on their halfcourt game.
"Our halfcourt execution was one thing we felt like we really needed to
improve on," McCarthy said. "I think we know a whole lot more about our
team after the first nine games. I think we now know what we're looking
for out of the halfcourt. The other thing is the halfcourt defensively
— both man and zone.
"We also had gotten to the point where we needed to put a few wrinkles
in. We needed to — not change substantially what we were doing — but
to tweak some of the things to put our guys in position where they could
have some success."
The down time has given several players a chance to recover from various
"I think the layoff was good for us from a health standpoint," McCarthy
said. "We had some people that were banged up. We pretty much got
everybody back close to 100 percent."
Sophomore forward Gabe Blair was dealing with some bone chips in a foot.
Freshman center Chad Wynn got some additional time to mend from an ankle
injury. Soph forward John Fields had some back spasms that have cleared
up. Senior forward Taylor Gagnon has had to wear a mask because of a
nose injury but is improving.
UNCW forward Todd Hendley was questionable with an ankle injury going
into a 90-86 loss at Coastal Carolina on Wednesday night but played 12
minutes against the Chanticleers before fouling out with 11 points. UNCW
had beaten Coastal 80-68 at home on Dec. 9. The Seahawks are now 7-4.
"They're a veteran team," said McCarthy of UNCW. "They start four
seniors. That's pretty unusual in college basketball and generally means
you're going to have a pretty darn good year. They're playing pretty
UNCW topped the Pirates 59-44 last season in the Port City. The Seahawks
went 7-22 in their first season under Coach Benny Moss. ECU was 6-24
"We watched last year's film and they are a completely different team,"
McCarthy said. "Some of the same pieces, but they're a completely
different team when you add (T.J.) Carter and the point guard (Chad)
Tomko. You've got guys coming off the bench like Dominique Lacy
(6-foot-7 freshman) who wasn't on the team last year.
"Plus Hendley and (Vladimir) Kuljanin (6-10 senior center) and (Daniel)
Fountain (6-4 senior guard), guys who were on the team last year, are
playing better, too. They're a whole lot better than when we played them
December 5th last year."
UNCW hasn't changed its style of play but is doing a better job of
executing the same systems, according to McCarthy.
"I think it took Benny and (the players) a little time to get used to
each other, which is normal," said the ECU coach, who moved from
assistant to head coach prior to this season. "They went into last
season thinking they would have Carter with them and they didn't have
him so they were adjusting on the fly, a little bit like we were. They
had a disappointing season but they look like the Wilmington of old as
far as being a really good team.
"They're one of the better offensive teams statistically in America."
Carter sat out last season to recuperate from sports hernia surgery. He
was leading the team with a 17.3 scoring average going into the game at
Coastal on Wednesday night. Kuljanin was averaging nearly a
double-double with 15.4 points and 9.5 rebounds. The Seahawks were
hitting 48.1 percent of their field goals and 78.2 percent of their free
Fan support was a huge factor in the win over State but with many
students home for the holidays, the Pirates may not have the same degree
of homecourt advantage.
"I think it's going to be really important," McCarthy said of the
turnout. "I don't have any clue about what the crowd will be like. We
had a good crowd during the holidays when they came here the last time
two years ago."
ECU, 4-5 thus far this season, won the last meeting in Greenville by an
82-69 margin on Dec. 31, 2005. The Pirates are 19-10 at home in the
series with UNCW. The Seahawks are 20-6 on their home floor and have
taken two of three at neutral sites. UNCW has an overall 32-26 lead in
"Coming off a good performance, I think folks who are looking for
something to do will come on out," McCarthy said. "I think some students
will drive back. Our student body and their student body have a lot of
friends back and forth — bragging rights and all that.
"They brought a lot of people the last time they played here. They
brought busloads of people. I think it will be a good atmosphere. I
don't anticipate it being N.C. State atmosphere but I think it will be a
The win over State has helped ECU's confidence.
"We can get after them a little bit more now," McCarthy said. "They know
what they're capable of. We know what they're capable of. We can be even
more demanding than we were. We were already demanding a lot but we can
be even more demanding than we were before."
The Pirates will take the floor again as the only ECU team to ever beat
beat an ACC opponent in men's basketball — albeit 14 days after that
courageous comeback victory. Junior guard Sam Hinnant led the way
against the Wolfpack with 30 points, including 6-of-8 shooting behind
the 3-point arc.
Whether Hinnant can recapture that torrid shooting touch and help ECU
show that it can play on that level consistently is a legitimate
question that will be answered in part on Saturday night.
"I'm not sure how it will be from a performance standpoint," McCarthy
said. "Some teams come out of those breaks a little rusty. Different
teams react to it in different ways. We tried to really challenge our
guys to focus on some things that we felt like we needed to improve on
and I think they did.
"How that will convert into performance, I don't know."