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
"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
"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
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."
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).