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View from the 'ville
Wednesday, February 2, 2011

By Al Myatt

Lebo says it's not him vs. Doherty

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

East Carolina's Conference USA basketball game at Southern Methodist tonight has an interesting subplot as opposing coaches Matt Doherty of the Mustangs and Jeff Lebo of the Pirates played at North Carolina for the legendary Dean Smith.

Lebo probably has spent more time contemplating SMU power forward Papa Dia and his potential impact on the matchup than the fact that he will be coaching against a fellow former Tar Heel. Doherty graduated UNC-Chapel Hill in 1984. Lebo was in the Class of 1989.

"We're friends and we obviously went to North Carolina, but we didn't play together," Lebo said. "He was before me. It's not Matt Doherty against Jeff Lebo or Jeff Lebo against Matt Doherty. It's SMU versus East Carolina."

Both teams are 4-3 in C-USA.

"We'll see what happens," Lebo said. "He's done a good job with his group. They're very unique. They've got a terrific post player, one of the best in the league in Papa Dia inside. He's done a good job of putting a system together that fits his players."

Although both coaches have adjusted their playing styles in terms of their personnel, Lebo said both programs probably reflect the influence of their alma mater.

"There are similarities, not from a playing standpoint, but from a running the program standpoint," Lebo said. "Both programs would share a lot of those things. I think they would share the same philosophy. We're going to play hard, play smart and play together.

"I think the thing for both of us is that style of play (at North Carolina) fits when you have particular types of players. That doesn't fit for everybody. I think he plays a completely different style that gives his team the best chance to compete. It's different than a lot of people. He's changed. He didn't use this at North Carolina — the way he's playing right now. That's my point. Sometimes you have to — and I think the good coaches do this — you have a philosophy of how to play. You stick to that philosophy and that will never change but how you play has to change depending upon your personnel.

"Matt has done a good job of changing his way to play without losing his philosophy."

Dia, who hails from Senegal, has been putting together some impressive numbers. He's averaging 18.0 points and 8.6 rebounds, both team highs. His shooting percentage is 58.8 percent and he's making 80.4 percent of his free throws. The Mustangs' big man (6foot-9, 235 pounds) has hit seven of 16 threes (43.8 percent) and has blocked 47 shots in 21 games.

Junior forward Robert Nyakundi (6-8, 230) is averaging 16.4 points and 4.7 rebounds while hitting 90.6 percent from the foul line and 47.1 percent behind the arc. Junior guard Robert Clinkscales, who is 6-1, is next in scoring at 7.5.

"They're not very big besides inside," Lebo said. "What makes them so unique is that they've got guys on the perimeter at four spots that can really, really shoot it from three and they've got maybe the best post player in the league in Papa Dia so they can score inside, too.

"You've got to kind of pick your poison with them. You know, what are you going to take away? It's hard to take away both the three and the post. They way they play and the way they stretch your defense, they're very patient offensively. They are a very crisp passing team and then they're very efficient when they get to shoot the ball behind the arc — over 40 percent as a team. That's unbelievable."

The Mustangs apparently would be glad to turn the matchup into a 3-point shooting contest.

"On defense, they try to hide their deficiencies in size," Lebo said. "You're going to have to make some shots against them. They're going to pack it in there and make you beat them from the perimeter. You're not going to get it in there as easy as you might think. They mix in zone and man to man and try to get you standing around."

ECU defeated Houston 74-70 in its most recent game on Saturday despite trailing 62-51 with 6:27 to go. Jontae Sherrod led the Pirates with 20 points and Darrius Morrow added 18.

"It was exciting the way it ended," Lebo said. "It was good that we won. I don't think we played particularly well for 30 minutes. Give Houston some credit for that. They came out and punched us in the mouth pretty good to start. They had us back on our heels.

"We wanted to play really well and the crowd was just bubbling to get into it. We got down by double digits. The crowd was ready for us to make a run and we couldn't. All of a sudden, we'd cut it to six and it would go back to 12. We did that about three times. We were resilient and had one last push coming down the stretch.

"We made enough plays, started to shoot the ball better and we won the game shooting 4 of 24 from three. We had some really good looks.

"I thought the crowd coming down the stretch was really a factor in the game. I thought we looked a little tired, looked a little fatigued, and that crowd, coming down the last 10 minutes, really gave us energy to finish out the game. We made some pretty good offensive plays coming down the stretch."

The Pirates practiced early Tuesday and then made the trip to the Dallas area. The Pirates will have a shoot around in SMU's Moody Coliseum today.

"You work on shooting all the time," Lebo said. "You just don't know what's going to happen in the game. The only thing you can worry about as a coach is the type of looks you get. Sometimes the shots go, sometimes they don't. You'd like for them to go all the time but it doesn't work like that in this game. Jamar Abrams goes 0-for-6 (from 3-point range against Houston) and he had some of the best looks he's had all year.

"He's struggled shooting the ball the last two games. I think he's maybe 2 of 15 in the last two games from three. He's a big part of what we do. Hopefully, he can get off the slide here in the next game."

What does Lebo think Dean Smith would say about the matchup between his former players?

"He wouldn't pull for anybody," Lebo said. "He would say, 'You shouldn't play the game,' but we have to since we're in the same league."

Seven teams out of 12 have winning league records in C-USA. Texas-El Paso, Memphis and UAB are all 5-2 in the league. Southern Miss is 5-3. SMU, ECU and Tulsa are each 4-3.

SMU is 472-234 in Moody Coliseum since it opened in 1956. Capacity is 8,998. The Mustangs' home results this season are the inverse of ECU's outcomes against the same C-USA teams. SMU's only league loss was at home to Houston, 70-68, on Jan. 15. The Mustangs beat Memphis (64-58 on Jan. 12) and defeated Southern Miss (79-65 on Jan. 22). ECU beat Houston but lost to Memphis (61-58 at Memphis on Jan. 8) and Southern Miss (84-77 at home on Jan. 26).

E-mail Al Myatt

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02/02/2011 04:19 AM


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