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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, November 17, 2010

By Bethany Bradsher

Limping but motivated Pirates eye Wolfpack

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Maybe, over the summer or in the early spring, East Carolina basketball coach Jeff Lebo or his assistants entertained a brief daydream about the first week of the season. They envisioned their most experienced players — Brock Young, Chad Wynn, Daquan Joyner — as the linchpins in the new Pirate scheme.

Of course, that mental snapshot now looks like it was attacked with a pair of scissors. Injuries have kept Young, Wynn and Joyner out of the first two games.

Only Joyner, with a stress fracture in his foot, looks to be out for the long term, but for now the burden is on the healthy Pirates, and young players like Corvonn Gaines and Erin Straughn have stepped up to aid a 2-0 record and a confidence that will fuel their trip to the Charleston Classic this weekend.

“We’re going into this game on a high,” said sophomore Straughn, who contributed 12 points in the Pirates’ 76-63 victory over Campbell on Monday. We’re really pumped up and motivated. That’s encouragement, that we can execute with those guys out. And when they come back we’ll be even better.”

It’s a good time for some early momentum, because the next opponent is N.C. State on Thursday in the opening round of the Charleston tournament. The Wolfpack (1-0) has size and experience and reason to hope for a solid footing in the ACC this season. With one exhibition game and two small-school opponents so far, the Pirates know that one of their truest 2010 tests is just ahead.

“We just got over the win, and now we have to focus on N.C. State,” said senior Jontae Sherrod, who led the Pirate scorers Monday with 21 points, including four three-pointers. “They’re a stronger, bigger team than we usually face.”

The Pirates haven’t been able to spend much time with N.C. State in their sights, but they have talked some about the offensive scheme that propelled the Wolfpack to score 111 points in last week’s exhibition game against Pfeiffer. And on defense, it seems to be a certainty that State will focus on shutting down the Pirate perimeter that rained in 11 three-pointers in the Campbell win.

“I know they’re not going to zone us like Campbell did,” Sherrod said. “I hope they do zone us, but I doubt they will.”

Seniors Young and Wynn are officially listed as questionable — Young is battling knee problems and Wynn injured his foot in Friday’s game against Erskine. It’s possible that either or both of them might get into to at least one game at the Charleston Classic, whose field features UNC-Charlotte, George Mason, Wofford, Georgetown, Coastal Carolina and USC-Upstate.

But until they get the green light to retake the court, Young and Wynn are mentoring a couple of young players who are filling in admirably for their older teammates. Redshirt freshman Darius Morales had three blocks in just 15 minutes of play in the paint on Monday, and sophomore Gaines has been the floor leader in Young’s absence. Gaines played all 40 minutes and scored 11 points against Campbell for a career high.

“We’re hyped up right now and ready for this big task ahead of us,” Gaines said. “We’re all just playing as a team, just getting the ball around moving and getting it to the post. Everybody’s knocking down the shot, everyone’s getting involved.”

Maybe no one is quite as hyped up for Thursday’s match-up as Sherrod, a Tarboro native who has been waiting since his freshman year for the excitement that he felt when the Pirates felled the Wolfpack in the 2007-08 season. Growing up in Eastern North Carolina, he felt the rivalry deeply, and he’s ready to commit to helping make another victory happen as the other bookend of his ECU career.

“I was mad last year that we didn’t play them,” he said. “That was a big win (in 2007-08). And this year, we might do it again. No, a matter of fact, we will do it again.”

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12/01/2010 02:47 AM

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