Pirates look to overthrow Monarchs

By Al Myatt
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East Carolina hosts Old Dominion at 7 tonight in the Conference USA basketball opener for both teams.

The Monarchs lead the series between the former Colonial Athletic Association programs, 36-14.

ODU has won the last four games in the series, including a 63-58 victory in the most recent meeting during the 2011-12 season.

This will be the first C-USA contest in hoops for ODU. The matchup marks the start of ECU's last season in the league. The Pirates will be in the American Athletic Conference next season.

ECU (11-4) won 79-71 at Campbell in its last game on Jan. 2. ODU (6-9) is coming off a 69-57 home triumph over George Mason on Saturday.

"They're coming off a terrific win," said Pirates coach Jeff Lebo. "They've got three very good backcourt players. (Aaron) Bacote is third in the league in scoring. He can flat out put the ball in the basket. He's averaging close to 19 a game.

"(Dimitri) Batten is a guy who can play strong. (Keenan) Palmore at the point can really get into the painted area. Their inside guys (Denzell Taylor and Richard Ross) are athletic and can rebound.

"Jeff Jones, the new coach there, has done a good job with his group."

Jones has coached previously at Virginia and American.

The Monarchs won 69-57 at UNC-Wilmington on Dec. 21. The Seahawks topped the Pirates 70-68 in Greenville on Dec. 1.

"That certainly gets the attention of our team," Lebo said of the results against UNCW.

The teams also have Georgia State as a common opponent. ODU lost 79-73 to the Panthers in Atlanta. Georgia State took an 89-82 win in Greenville on Dec. 29.

"This will be a good test for us," Lebo said.

ECU leads C-USA teams in field goal percentage (47.7) and 3-point percentage (39.3).

Akeem Richmond had 37 points at Campbell on 10 of 17 shooting behind the arc.

"The keys we have every game will be how well we shoot the basketball," Lebo said. "I think Paris (Roberts-Campbell) is going to be a big key for us."

Roberts-Campbell is averaging 13.7 points, second on the team behind Richmond (20.0). Freshman Caleb White is scoring at a 12.7 clip for the Pirates and Prince Williams is also in double figures with a 10.3 average. Michael Zangari has stepped up his pace on the interior to contribute 9.4 points per game.

The Pirates are averaging 84.5 points per game.

"We've scored the ball fairly well," Lebo said. "Defensively, our ball screen defense is going to be key against their guards. We can't give up easy transition baskets.

"We've got to find a way to manufacture a few easier baskets on our end."

ECU freshman Brandan Stith is averaging 9.5 rebounds in 24.6 minutes per game. His dad, Bryant, coached him in high school and is now an assistant coach at ODU.

"We've kind of given up our offensive rebounding a little bit because we're trying to get back and keep people in front of us," Lebo said. "Defensive rebounding, we've got to have five guys in there. That will continue to be an area of concern for us in our conference play."

The Pirates have had nine days to get ready for tonight's game. There won't be a span between games of that length for the remainder of the season.

ECU will continue league play at 7 p.m. Thursday at Florida Atlantic and follow that with a game at Florida International at 5 p.m. on Saturday.

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01/11/2014 03:19 AM