East Carolina trailed host Central Florida 39-25 with four minutes left in an American Athletic Conference matchup on Tuesday night.
Kentrell Barkley and B.J. Tyson sparked a late run that got the Pirates within 48-45 before a 3-pointer by Tyson rimmed out at the buzzer.
“We just made some shots,” said ECU coach Jeff Lebo. “There’s no secret to anything. We got great looks in the first half and missed them. Missed foul shots, missed everything. We got good shots, had good rhythm shots. Just couldn’t make it. We couldn’t make it in the second half either. . . . Then obviously we started to make them and it got contagious. We scored the ball there.”
A strong effort defensively went unrewarded as the Pirates slipped to 9-7 overall and 1-2 in the league going into a noon game Saturday at Temple (9-7, 0-3).
“Defensively, we were good all night,” Lebo said. “That was not a problem. We did a great job on [Tacko] Fall (UCF’s 7-foot-6 center). We did a great job on [A.J.] Davis. We did a good job on [Matt] Williams (3-for-10 field goal shooting). You hold somebody to 12 baskets, you think you’re going to win the game but they got to the foul line a little bit.”
ECU went six of 16 on foul shots at UCF while the Knights were 21 of 28.
“That’s what was really the difference in the game was foul shooting,” Lebo said. “They got there more and made them. We left a lot of points. We’re not a great scoring team. When you get a chance to get to the foul line, you can’t leave points just laying there. You’ve got to be able to make those.”
Stay in Orlando
ECU remained in Orlando and was scheduled to fly to Philadelphia today.
“We had gone 10 straight days so we were off [Wednesday],” Lebo said. “We took them over to Universal. We got out of the hotel. It’s beautiful down here. Let them hang out, do different stuff and see something different. So we had a good time.”
The Pirates coach enjoyed the Disney theme park — for a while.
“I enjoyed it until my hip starting hurting me,” Lebo said. “I’ve got to get a hip replacement. I didn’t last as long as I thought I was going to last. My favorite one was the Rocket. I got on the Rocket roller coaster. That made me woozy for about an hour afterwards but I made it through.”
Lebo may have surgery after the season.
“Probably,” he said. “I needed to have it last year and I got a shot. The shot didn’t really work.”
Winter weather in forecast
Philly and Greenville are expected to get snow before the Pirates are scheduled to fly home Saturday.
“Yeah, we’re kind of monitoring that situation from down here,” Lebo said after practice Thursday afternoon at UCF. “Nothing has really changed for us yet. We’ll be on alert here. We’ll have a plan B and a plan C prepared and see what happens.”
Temple has lost its last three but Lebo said that is deceptive.
“They’re good,” Lebo said. “Now they haven’t won lately but they’re the only team in the country to beat Florida State and they beat West Virginia (12-2). . . . They’re a different team than they were last year. They’re really dependent on the 3-point shot and when they make them, they can beat West Virginia and beat Florida State. When they miss them, they have a hard time.
“They can shoot it from all five spots on the floor. They shoot a ton of threes. They’re always pretty solid defensively. [Temple coach] Fran [Dunphy] has always had a pretty solid defensive team. That’s been the thing. When they’re playing great, they’re shooting the ball at a high percentage, utilizing the 3-point line.
“When they’ve struggled, down here at Central Florida, they were down (38-11) in the first half. They couldn’t buy a basket.”
Last year, ECU topped Temple, 64-61, in Greenville on Jan. 27.
“We played pretty good that night,” Lebo said. “We got out in transition and got some easy baskets. We defended and rebounded pretty well. They won the league (regular season) last year so they were a pretty good team. We made a great play at the end to win the game. KB (Kentrell Barkley) got an offensive rebound and finished, a special play. We battled hard.”
Tyson is averaging 12.3 points, Barkley is scoring at an 11.8 rate and Caleb White is hitting 10.9 per game.
Barkley scored 16 at UCF and Tyson added 13 but White managed just five points on 1-for-7 field goal shooting.
All three need to be scoring for the Pirates to be at their best. Barkley is hitting 40.3 percent of his shots from the floor. Tyson is at 39.3 percent and White is connecting at a 39.7 rate.
“They’ve got to be good every night,” Lebo said. “They’ve got to be solid. They’re all not shooting the ball very well. . . . You look at the upper echelon of the league. You look at SMU. You look at Cincinnati. You look at their backcourt shooting numbers. You’re going to see guys in the upper 40s, 50 percent. That’s where they kind of need to be.
“They’re making the right plays. We’re getting good shots. You’re not going to be like wide open at this level. The other team is going to contest. You’re going to have to make some semi-contested shots.
“Watching our team against Central Florida, the first half we got great looks. We made the right plays, got the right looks at the basket. We could not put the ball in the bucket. That’s a frustrating thing when you make all the right plays and can’t finish off a possession.”
The Pirates have a promising group of freshmen.
Elijah Hughes is averaging 7.9 points. Jeremy Sheppard is hitting 7.7 per game but just 3.3 in the three league games. Raquan Wilkins had a steal and a basket in the final minute at UCF. Lengthy Deng Riak is contributing, too, especially on the defensive end.
“Elijah Hughes got in foul trouble the last game,” Lebo said. “That hurt us a little bit. . . . Jeremy Sheppard hasn’t played well in conference play at all. He hasn’t been a factor for us and that’s hurt us a little bit.
“Raquan Wilkins has continued to get better. He’s really helped us on the defensive end of the floor and so has Deng Riak. . . . I don’t think he gets enough praise for his job defensively. He’s as good a position defensive guy that I’ve had in 27 years of coaching in knowing how to guard action, how to guard the ball and knowing what to do defensively. He’s really, really good. They really don’t have statistics for those kinds of things he does that help you win.
“He did the job on A.J. Davis (4 points on 1-for-6 shooting), a guy who’s really hurt us in the past against Central Florida. A.J. Davis did not score on him. He had one basket. It was on KB. DR did a great job on him. Those guys are all freshmen. They’re learning what it’s like to play at this level on the road and how good you have to be.”