East Carolina had its Senior Night
spoiled by a late UAB run last
Saturday evening in Greenville, leaving the Pirates in the position of
going on the road to try to salvage some late season momentum for the
Conference USA Tournament.
Standing in the way of the needed
momentum is sensational Central Florida senior guard Jermaine Taylor,
who will be intent on closing out his career at home on a winning note.
Taylor is the current Conference USA
player of the week, an honor he has claimed five times this season.
Taylor recently had a UCF Division I record 45 points against Rice and
followed that up with a 28-point game against Marshall.
ECU needs to learn from the 82-62 loss
to the Blazers in which UAB accelerated
to victory from a tie at 42 with under 15 minutes left to play.
"We had two seniors, James Legan and
Sam Hinnant," said Pirates coach Mack McCarthy. "James had been with us
only two years as a junior college player but was one of the guys who
was very popular with our fans because he can come in and make long
"Neither one of the seniors had a great
Legan was just two for eight from the
field as he scored five points, seven below his average. Hinnant went
three for 10 as he managed 10 points or about two-thirds of his team
high 14.7-point scoring rate.
"We had two Senior Nights in a row with
some special outcomes," McCarthy said. "Two years ago, Courtney Captain
had a career high and the game-winning shot against UTEP. Last year, we
beat Houston and Sam Hinnant had a huge night."
UAB swing man Robert Vaden, who
followed coach Mike Davis from Indiana, proved to be the difference for
the Blazers down the stretch.
"We played 30 minutes about as well as
we could play and then Mr. Vaden exploded on us," McCarthy said. "He had
all this pent up energy. He got hot and had 18 points in the last 11
minutes, ruining our Senior Night."
In contrast to the conclusion of the
contest with UAB, the Pirates found some home court magic
to defeat the Knights 89-75 at
Minges on Feb. 7. Hinnant had 18 points that night, Legan added 13 and
sophomore Jamar Abrams had a breakout effort that included 25 points.
Sophomore point guard Brock Young also had a nice stat line against UCF
with 12 points, seven rebounds and nine assists.
The Pirates limited Taylor to 24 points
in that outing. He averages 26.2 per game, 28.7 in C-USA action. Taylor
has been UCF's leading scorer in 28 of its 29 games and has tallied 30
or more points nine times this season.
ECU overshadowed Taylor offensively by
hitting 63 percent of its field goal attempts, a school record in C-USA
play. The Pirates matched their school record by hitting 15
"We played really well here," McCarthy
said. "Since then they've become a little bit different team. ... We
haven't played as well as we did against them since then."
The Knights (16-13, 6-9 C-USA) and the
Pirates (13-15, 5-10) are each riding four-game losing streaks. UCF is
12-3 on its home floor this season while ECU is 3-9 on the road.
"We have a challenge on the road,"
McCarthy said. "Although the last time out (away from home) at Tulsa we
played pretty well again for most of the game. They ended up
beating us by 10 (72-62, Feb.
21) at the end of the game."
UCF Arena, which seats 10,000, opened
in 2007. Its student section is dubbed "the Knightmare."
"It's a place that's tough to play,"
McCarthy said. "We look forward to going to that beautiful new building
that they have down there. I'm not sure I want to see Jermaine Taylor on
Senior Night other than to make sure that he does graduate and gets on
out of here.
"He's been scoring in record numbers
and it will be a huge challenge. We did a really good job against him
here in town but it will be a huge challenge to play against him on
Senior Night in Orlando."
Taylor's 45 points against Rice came in
just 34 minutes.
"We're very proud of Jermaine and his
approach to making himself into a better basketball player," said
Knights coach Kirk Speraw. "He's done it every year. I didn't think
there was any way with the focus that the teams playing us would have on
him this year, the defensive designs to stop Jermaine — I didn't think
he would average as many points as he did last year. I thought his
shooting percentages would go down."
It seems appropriate that Taylor wears
jersey No. 1 for UCF. The 6-foot-4 product of Tavares, FL, averaged 20.8
points as a junior when he was a second team All C-USA selection.
"Quite the opposite has happened,"
Speraw said of Taylor's 2008-09 performance. "His shooting percentages
have all gone up. He's almost 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from
three with defenses all designed to stop him. He's the third leading
scorer in the country. He just keeps amazing us. I walk off the court
thinking he's probably got 25 (points) and he's got 38.
"He does it in an almost quiet way.
He's so efficient in how he does it. He's averaged 27 points a game
against the four best defensive teams in our league. I don't think
there's any one player in the country who means more to their team than
what Jermaine means to us."
Keeping Taylor from taking off will be
a Pirate priority on Saturday night. ECU potentially could see the
Knights star again next Wednesday in the first round of the C-USA
Tournament in a matchup of the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds in Memphis.
The winner of that game will face a
top-seeded Memphis team that takes a 21-game winning streak into its
home game on Saturday with Tulane.
The Pirates have had a week to prepare
for their final game of the regular season, and McCarthy felt the extra
time could produce some benefits.
"I wasn't sure about the bye week here
at the end," said the ECU coach. "It put us in a situation where we
played a whole lot of Wednesdays and Saturdays in a row and we didn't
have a break.
"With our bye weeks being the first and
last weeks of the season, I thought that was a little bit of a
disadvantage. But now, I'm sort of glad that we have it. We can get in
the weight room and in practice and get a lot of shots up to try to get
some of that confidence back."