GREENVILLE — A milestone of sorts was reached within the East Carolina basketball program Wednesday, but it was neither the one ECU fans were expecting nor a mark anyone in the Pirate Nation was hoping to witness.
ECU interim head coach Michael Perry has been coaching basketball for more than 30 years. Kentrell Barkley’s ejection after a double technical in the second half of the Pirates’ loss to visiting Southern Methodist was the most disappointed he has been in a player through those three decades, he said.
“Regardless of how frustrated you are, there’s a certain responsibility and accountability that you have as a player and also as a team, and you just can’t cross that line,” Perry said of Barkley, who returned Wednesday after serving a two-game suspension for violating athletic department rules. “He certainly crossed the line, and he certainly crossed that line, and he will be dealt with as a result of that.”
The achievement the Pirate faithful was expecting — for senior guard B.J. Tyson to move into fifth place on ECU’s all-time scoring list — came within a hair’s breadth of happening when Tyson scored his 14th point with three minutes remaining. He needed 15 to move up in the record book.
But it is unlikely that Tyson or his teammates would have felt like celebrating anyway after the Pirates’ lackluster 78-57 defeat.
Aside from a 21-point performance by junior Isaac Fleming, the Pirates were out of rhythm and plagued by missteps throughout the contest. It started with an 11-0 hole in the first five minutes of play, deteriorated into a deficit that hovered near 20 points for nearly the entire night and ended with 34.5 percent shooting, 19 SMU points off of Pirate turnovers and one ejected player.
“Our team was distracted, and as a coach you always hope you can find a way to get through a night like this and win ugly, as they say, but tonight we were not able to do that,” Perry said. “We came out flat, distracted, and as a coach you scratch your head sometimes, you try to figure out why something like this happens. Particularly with our team, because we’ve been playing really good basketball here of late. That’s what’s kind of disappointing, because you don’t see it coming.”
Even with a ninth place standing in the American Athletic Conference, ECU’s play in the past five games has given Pirate fans plenty of reasons for optimism. But on Wednesday, the bright spots came from other venues — the start of spring football practice and the baseball team’s fourth straight win.
As for Barkley, Perry said definitively that he would not be permitted to play in the Pirates’ next game at Houston, and he also said that he had not spoken with him yet by the time of the postgame press conference (Barkley left the arena after the ejection).
Perry expressed frustration that Barkley, an upperclassmen and typically a top performer on the court, had stumbled as a leader for the younger players on the roster.
“This happens in this game,” Perry said. “You have to sometimes work around different things that might be distractions. And you try to work through that, but eventually things come to a head and you have to deal with them accordingly.”
Tyson only needs one more point to pass Darius Morrow on the career scoring ladder to become the fifth leading Pirate scorer of all time. With his performance against SMU, he reached a total of 1,505 points and became the sixth player in ECU history to reach the 1,500-point mark. He is also the all-time leading scorer in the history of the American.