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View from the 'ville
Thursday, December 24, 2009

By Al Myatt

Bucs look to build on a loss

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

East Carolina was a defensive rebound away from nailing down a significant non-conference win at the end of regulation play against George Washington on Tuesday night in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.

The Pirates had taken a 73-71 lead with 19 seconds left as Jamar Abrams drained a three-pointer on Brock Young's 10th assist of the game. The Colonials called time with 13 seconds left.

Then the potential win slipped away from ECU. With a chance to get to .500 (6-6) and take the positive emotion of victory into the Christmas break, the Pirates failed to screen out for crucial defensive rebounds. George Washington's Damian Hollis was errant on a jumper from the right side but teammate Hermann Opoku came away with the carom.

Opoku missed from close range but Dwayne Smith of the Colonials got another rebound. Smith got a follow shot on the rim as the buzzer went off and the ball teetered on the iron before falling in to send the contest into overtime.

The Pirates came excruciatingly close. Young's fifth free throw of the extra period provided the game's 16th tie with 1:28 left. Hollis put the Colonials ahead at the line with 1:04 left and went 6-for-6 on his foul shots in the last 64 seconds to salt the 84-80 win away for the visitors from the Atlantic 10, who improved to 8-2.

Despite the disappointing circumstances of the outcome, there was no pity party in the ECU locker room. If there is such a thing as a feel good loss, this was it.

"We got more than our share of the hustle points against a team that's extremely athletic, very deep and really long," said Pirates coach Mack McCarthy. "I thought that was a good sign."

ECU's hoops boss provided an interesting perspective in contradiction to the standard concept of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The Pirates were coming off a relatively-uninspired 74-69 win over Division II St. Andrews on Saturday night that wasn't assured until the closing seconds.

"While we were really disappointed that we didn't come away with the win and end up .500 at Christmas, we probably feel a whole lot better after this game despite the loss than we did after Saturday night's win," McCarthy said. "Now whether we can take this and build on it, I don't know."

The players found positives, too.

"Our effort was there," said Young, who had 20 points. "If we can keep the effort there, keep turnovers down, block out and just control the ball — we'll be all right."

Chad Wynn had 17 points and seven rebounds.

"It's the most complete game we've played," Wynn said. "We've got to come back after Christmas break and play like that the rest of the season."

Hobbs offers accolades

George Washington coach Karl Hobbs was impressed by Young, ECU's 5-foot-11 junior point guard, who was second in the NCAA in assists last season with 7.6 per game.

"We felt coming into the game we had to find some way to control Mr. Young," Hobbs said. "He's a terrific, terrific basketball player. I don't know if I've ever played against a player in the first half of a basketball game that had (two) points and totally controlled the tempo of the game.

"He controlled the total flow of the game. He makes all those other guys terrific players. He's as good a point guard as we've faced all year."

Young played all 45 minutes for the Pirates. George Washington point guard Tony Taylor had 20 points, four assists, four steals and six rebounds in 39 minutes.

"It was fun for me just watching the two point guards," Hobbs said. " ... Every time (Young) had the basketball, I was nervous. ... I think he thrives on being pressured. I think he takes it on as a personal insult when you try to trap him. He's just a magnificent player. We really felt that we could wear him down. He proved that he's a great, conditioned athlete.

"I just enjoy his unselfishness. He really understands what he means to this team and he makes all those guys feel good. I mean he really does. After the game in the locker room, our coaches weren't talking about our guys. We were talking about Brock. He left a strong impression on us."

League play is the focus

The Pirates return to action on Tuesday at Virginia Commonwealth. ECU will be at home against North Carolina Central on Sunday at 3 p.m. and then Conference USA play starts on Wednesday, Jan. 6, when the Pirates face a UAB team in Birmingham that won its tenth straight game, 67-57, over No. 16 Butler on Tuesday night.

The performance against George Washington made McCarthy optimistic that ECU can be equal to the challenges ahead.

"If we play like we did tonight, as hard as we played and as well as we played together, the wins and losses will take care of themselves," said the Pirates coach. "We'll start to win more than we lose. But again, that's going to be a challenge to play through some adversity and continue to play through adversity and tonight was the first time I thought we really did that.

"We've battled from behind but playing possession by possession, got to get a stop, got to get a score — this is by far the best that we have played."

The conference schedule will get ECU's full attention.

"We've preached all along that the wins and losses in November and December are O.K., but what's really important is January and February," McCarthy said. "I think our guys have been pretty good about keeping their eye on the prize at the end of the year — playing in league play, being ready for the conference tournament and understand that it's a process for us to get better."

Home, road disparity

With many students home for the holidays on Tuesday night, Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum didn't provide the same degree of home court advantage for the Pirates as is normally the case for a reputable opponent.

What difference does the homecourt make?

In Conference USA games dating back to the 2001-02 season, the Pirates have played 34 teams a total of 68 games home and away in the same season during the regular season. The Pirates beat Central Florida 89-75 (plus 14 points) at home last season but lost 74-71 (minus 3 points) on the Knights' floor. That's a differential of 17 points in home performance compared to the road.

In 34 sets of games, home and away against the same C-USA teams in the same season, the total differential has been 312 points better at home.

ECU has been an average of 9.176 points better at home than on the road against the league teams it has played home and away in C-USA in the same season over eight seasons.

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12/24/2009 05:01 AM


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