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View from the 'ville
Friday, January 28, 2011

By Al Myatt

Pirates becoming road warriors

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

East Carolina's road wins in Conference USA traditionally have been rarer than hen's teeth, but at this point in the Jeff Lebo era, the Pirates are 11-9 overall with a 1-2 record at home in C-USA and a 2-1 league mark on the road.

"We played very well at Central Florida (74-62 ECU win on Jan. 19 in Orlando) for the entire game," Lebo said. "We excecuted and defended very well."

In contrast to their thorough performance at UCF, the Pirates trailed by 15 points during the first half at Marshall on Saturday night.

"We stayed around," Lebo said of the effort against the Thundering Herd. "They shot it really well in the first half. We kind of hung around. Offensively, we did some good things. We got a little lucky at the end. We had to have some things fall our way — some missed foul shots by Marshall, a turnover here or there but we hung around and were able really to steal that one on the road, which was nice to see.

"We were coming off a stretch where we had seven of nine on the road. We've played well on the road. We've lost some heartbreakers.

"You go back to the Coastal Carolina game (59-58 loss without Brock Young and Jamar Abrams on Dec. 18), we could have easily won that one. They're 18-2. I don't think they've lost since the tournament down in Charleston (SC). We should have had that one. At George Washington (Dec. 22), we lose (82-80) on a last second shot. At Clemson (71-59 loss, Dec. 29) with four minutes to go, it's a five-point game.

"We win at (NC) Central (58-50, Jan. 3). We have a chance at Memphis (61-58 loss, Jan. 8) in the last few minutes of the game. We've been in a lot of close games. We've been more competitive on the road and that's been a good thing to see. Everybody has a hard time winning on the road. It's a hard thing to do but at least we've been competitive. We haven't always won on the road but it was nice on the last two road games to finally break through.

"The way we broke through in the second game was real exciting for our kids. We were down seven (points) with a minute, 40 (seconds) to go in that game. To come back and win that game was gratifying for us as a coaching staff."

Pirates power forward Darrius Morrow had 33 points in the Marshall win that included the deciding three-point play with five seconds remaining.

Focus on Houston

With ECU's recent road success, maybe Lebo should ride his team around on a bus before playing Houston at home on Saturday at 6 p.m.

The Cougars are 11-8 overall and 3-3 in C-USA under first-year coach James Dickey. The Houston is coming off a 79-71 overtime loss at Rice on Wednesday night. Dickey was head coach at Texas Tech from 1991 to 2001. He has been an assistant at Oklahoma State (2002-08), Kentucky (1985-89) and Arkansas (1981-85).

Houston's top personnel include 6-foot-4 senior guard Adam Brown, who averages 14.9 points, 6-9 senior center Maurice McNeil, who averages 12.2 points and 7.9 rebounds, and 6-7 sophomore forward Kendrick Washington, who averages 10.5 points and 5.6 rebounds.

"This league is tough," Lebo said. "You look at the power ratings and we're one below the SEC. I don't see a whole heckuva lot of big separation in the league, at least in the teams that I've seen so far. Houston is another one. They've got experienced backcourt players. They can shoot it from three. They've got Maurice McNeil inside, who can score and block shots.

"You talk about Houston and you're talking about a team that's coming off an NCAA Tournament bid, a team that's used to winning, a team that has a lot of tradition.

"Looking at the league, we're probably not as talented as most of the people in our league. We've got it tough. I think it was Tulane and Rice that East Carolina played twice last year. We changed that out for UAB and Memphis who are at the top of the league this year. We've got a hard road. We've got Southern Miss twice, Memphis twice, UAB twice, Central Florida twice, Marshall twice. The ones we have — it's a hard row to hoe.

"Our kids are getting better. We don't have a lot of margin for error. Our effort has been better. Defensively, for the most part, we've been better.

"The next step is that we've got to be able to think and play at the same time. This game is so much between the ears and at times we have stretches that we don't play as intelligently as I would have liked. That costs us in a lot of close games. The last 11 games, we've probably been plus or minus five points in the last five minutes.

"In close games like that, you've really got to be able to play the game with your head. If we can cut down on some mental mistakes that have been costing us in some of those close games, our record can be completely different."

Hot Southern Miss only got hotter

Lebo is trying to add another dimension to the overall athletic culture at East Carolina with a higher level of success in the basketball program.

He didn't get any cooperation from Southern Miss on Wednesday night. After two steps forward with road wins over Central Florida and Marshall, the Pirates took a step back with an 84-77 loss to a hot-shooting group of Golden Eagles in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.

Lebo knows something personally about shooting and the former North Carolina guard didn't figure Southern Miss would maintain its hot hand after hitting 14 of 26 from the field in the first half for 53.8 percent.

"They shot it really, really well," said the first-year Pirates coach. "Their strategy was to kind of burn some clock and try to score in the last 10 seconds of the shot clock. They did it and they did it consistently for the whole game — tough shots, end of the shot clock shots, a lot of contested shots.

"We were down two (37-35) at half and I told my team, they won't shoot it as well the second half. I told them to keep defending, keep contesting, keep doing the things that we're supposed to do. I'll be darned if they didn't shoot it better the second half."

Southern Miss made 13 of 23 second half field goal tries for 56.5 percent. The Golden Eagles were six for 11 behind the arc for 54.5 percent. The visitors seemed immune to the inspiring effect that ECU's home floor can have on the Pirates as they made 24 of 30 free throws for 80 percent.

ECU had the shooting range as well, hitting 22 of 43 field goal attempts for 51.2 percent. The Pirates were outshone from distance as they made just six of 20 on threes for 30 percent. ECU got to the line and took advantage to make 27 of 34 free throws for 79.4 percent.

Lebo had to laugh and tip his hat to Southern Miss.

"Give them credit," he said. "Our numbers offensively were good enough, but they made every timely shot you can make over the course of 40 minutes. ... They shot it great."

E-mail Al Myatt

Al Myatt Archives

01/28/2011 05:02 AM


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