The road is long with many a winding
turn in Conference USA, particularly for East Carolina in basketball.
The Pirates were 1,250 miles from the
supportive environment of Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum on Wednesday
night for a C-USA road game at Houston, a team ECU
shaded 84-83 in its final home
contest of the 2007-08 season.
This time, the Cougars turned the
tables from last year's loss, topping the Pirates in just about every
statistical category in
an 85-67 win.
Last year's result seemed to have had
an effect on Houston's mindset for this year's matchup. ECU dropped 15
of 40 attempts from behind the 3-point arc against the Cougars last
"It was a very good win against a team
that I had a lot of fear about because of their ability to hit the
threes from the outside and their outstanding point guard Brock Young
who had 12 assists and only two turnovers," said Houston coach Tom
Penders. "They have a balanced team, but our defense just took them out
"They went to five guards at one point
because they couldn't run their regular offense in the first half. We
got a lot of easy baskets in transition and off steals. That's what
allowed us to open it up to a 20-point lead at halftime."
The Cougars pushed their lead to 26
points on a couple of occasions early in the second half. Houston
finished with a 40-30 advantage in rebounding, had a 34-22 edge in
points in the paint and dominated 16-2 in fast break points.
ECU made just 5 of 19 attempts from
beyond the arc in Wednesday night's game, a differential of 20 points
from last year's long range output against the Cougars.
That outcome wasn't surprising in the
least in terms of ECU's tradition of struggling away from home in C-USA.
Since joining C-USA for basketball in the
2001-02 season, the Pirates are
a dismal 4-53 in league games on the road.
ECU has as many winless seasons on the
road in C-USA (4) as the Pirates actually have road wins. ECU lost its
first 20 road games in C-USA before
topping former league member South Florida
59-57 on Feb. 3, 2004.
The Pirates added
a 63-50 win at Southern Miss
that season on March 6 for their largest road margin of victory in C-USA
and their only multi-win season away from home in league play to date.
topping UAB 67-64 in Birmingham
on Feb. 16, 2005, ECU had a string of 23 consecutive road losses in
winning 75-68 at Rice on March 5
of last season.
Next up is a 5 p.m. game at Southern
Methodist on Saturday. ECU
blitzed the Mustangs 82-54 in
Greenville last season.
The Pirates made the 240-mile trek
north from Houston to Dallas and had a workout at SMU on Thursday
afternoon. After a study hall this morning, ECU coach Mack McCarthy
planned to assemble his players for another preparatory session at SMU
The Mustangs are guided by former North
Carolina player and coach Matt Doherty, which adds a bit of intrigue to
tomorrow night's matchup.
The Ponies had their own problems on
the road on Wednesday night in a 53-50 loss at Marshall. SMU seemingly
had the ball for the last shot in regulation with the score tied at 50,
but Derek Williams of the Mustangs missed a jumper that senior forward
Markel Humphrey of the Thundering Herd rebounded with four seconds left.
Humphrey heaved a shot from 75 feet
that banked in at the buzzer to set off a state of delirium at the Cam
Henderson Center in Huntington.
Doherty seemed good-natured in his
reaction and detached himself from the personal disappointment of the
moment to comment on the frequency of such excitement in the college
"I had a pretty good angle on it,"
Doherty said. "I wasn't feeling real good as it left his hands. He
didn't call 'bank' though. He should have called 'bank.'
"That's why basketball is the best
sport in the country. In football, Michael Crabtree makes a game-winning
touchdown at Texas Tech against the Longhorns, but those plays only
happen once a year, twice a year, three times a year (in football). In
basketball, you get this once a week."
ECU and SMU had unanimous company among
six C-USA road teams on Wednesday night. Memphis beat visiting Rice
80-52, host Central Florida topped Southern Miss 73-61, Tulane edged
Tulsa 76-75 in overtime in New Orleans and UAB sent Texas-El Paso on its
way with a 78-73 Blazers win at Bartow Arena.
There are a number of factors commonly
cited in explaining the homecourt advantage in college hoops. These
include the home team's familiarity with its own arena, the support of
its fans and its proximity to the game site.
The travel factor is even more
pronounced in C-USA because of the geographic dispersal of its
membership. SMU returned from the 1,000-mile junket to Marshall prior to
its game with ECU.
When the Pirates were in the Colonial
Athletic Association, bus rides were the predominant mode of
transportation. ECU has joined the jet set in C-USA and too often has
played as if jet lagged. The Pirates and former president George W. Bush
have been adjusting to Dallas this week.
ECU also will have to adjust to some
potential mismatches provided by the Ponies, who have seven players
6-foot-8 or taller. Guards Paul McCoy and Williams average 13.2 and 12.1
points respectively. Mouhammad Faye, who is 6-9, averages 11.2 points
and 7-1 Bamba Fall is the Mustangs' leading rebounder at 7.0 per game.
McCarthy had hoped to have 6-7 DaQuan
Joyner back in the frontcourt rotation but the sophomore forward did not
make the swing through Texas.
The Pirates (9-8, 1-3 C-USA) can escape
the league cellar with a win. The same could be said for SMU (6-10,
ECU could certainly use the momentum of
a rare road victory as it returns home to host No. 22 Memphis on
Wednesday. The talented Tigers (15-3, 5-0) have won nine in a row going
into a game at non-conference rival Tennessee tomorrow afternoon.
There are exceptions to every rule and
Memphis has been immune to road difficulties in C-USA, having won 47
straight against league competition.