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View from the 'ville
Friday, March 6, 2009

By Al Myatt

Pirates seek sweep of Taylor-led Knights

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

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 distance shots.

"Neither one of the seniors had a great Senior Night."

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 three-pointers.

"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."

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03/06/2009 02:05:11 AM


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