East Carolina hasn’t played a game since a 74-65 American Athletic Conference win over visiting Tulane on Saturday, but the Pirates have been making use of their time.
“It’s great to kind of catch our breath this week as they say, both on and off the floor,” interim ECU coach Michael Perry said Thursday morning. “It’s given us an opportunity to get a little rest, well-deserved rest. We have some guys with some bumps and bruises. They needed to get some extra time in with the training department, which they were able to. We also were able to get some extra shooting in and fine tune some things offensively — work out some kinks that we had in the execution offensively.
“We continue to work on building our team defense and weak-side help. We were able to get those things accomplished on the floor.”
And, of course, the players are college students, a demanding situation in itself.
“Off the floor, the guys have had a chance to really be dialed in academically and get caught up,” Perry said. “That was important also. This was a big week for us academically, lot of tests, lot of quizzes this particular week. We didn’t have to find time on the road between airplane flights and practices to get some extra studying time in.”
The Pirates improved to 11-13 overall and 3-8 in the AAC as Caleb White scored 20 points against the Green Wave.
Without a game this week, the win created a lingering positive vibe.
“It’s very similar to a football team that has a bye week,” Perry said. “There’s nothing better than a win when you have multiple days off. It makes a team more receptive to any teaching that you have during the course of that time. It was certainly well-received by our team during this break in the schedule.”
White, a senior, regained some needed confidence as ECU improved to 10-4 this season within the supportive environment of Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.
“We hope it will continue,” Perry said of White’s improved outlook. “That’s our belief. This week in practice, he’s been really shooting the ball extremely well. It’s been a continuation of what we actually saw the other night. That’s really encouraging that he not only shot it well the other night but he’s been consistent in practice the last few days also.”
White hit five of 11 field goals against Tulane. He was three for seven beyond the arc and seven of eight at the free throw line.
Kentrell Barkley contributed 14 points and 12 rebounds in the last outing. The schedule respite came at a good time for the versatile sophomore.
“He had a little patella tendonitis,” Perry said of Barkley. “I would say that 75 percent of the players in the country probably have some form of patella tendonitis during the course of the season. It was great for him. It’s not as severe as some other guys who have actually been sidelined for multiple weeks but it is something that needs to be managed and that’s what they’re doing right now, just taking all precaution and trying to take advantage of some rest and some rehab for him.”
Junior B.J. Tyson has been absent since a knee injury against Houston on Jan. 11. Tyson, who has a team-high 11.9 scoring average, has been making some progress physically. He practiced on a limited basis Thursday.
“Today will be his first day actually cleared to actually practice, but not the full practice,” Perry said. ” . . . He’ll probably go maybe 30 to 45 minutes of real live practice. Then we’ll see how it progresses from there. We’re thinking within a week he should be able to be a part of things. . . . He’s a full go.”
The Pirates have gotten their games with league leaders Cincinnati (11-0 AAC), Southern Methodist (11-1) and Memphis (8-4) out of the way. ECU’s next four opponents do not have winning records in the league. Perry said the Pirates aren’t thinking in terms of a run. Their focus is more immediate.
“We haven’t had a history of multiple wins,” Perry said. “Every win we can get, I mean we cherish it. We’re grinding it out for every one we can possibly be a part of. We’re literally taking it one game at a time. We’ll see how it goes there. That’s kind of the model here recently — one play at a time, one game at a time. That’s what we want to do and we’ll go from there. We’re not giving a lot of thought to where we are in terms of the conference, the rankings in terms of the teams that we’re playing, all those things that go into it. We don’t want them thinking in terms of who the opponents are.
“We want to go out and play as if we’re playing against Cincinnati every night. That’s the way it should be. It’s a dogfight, this league. It’s a meat grinder. Every game presents a new challenge, whether you’re playing South Florida or you’re playing SMU. It’s going to be a series of different challenges that you’re going to have to get figured out. It’s a competitive league from top to bottom.”
Seeking first road win
ECU is 0-8 on the road this season. The Pirates do have a 70-63 triumph over Air Force away from home but that was in Savannah, GA, a neutral site.
ECU plays at South Florida (6-17, 0-12) on Saturday night at 8 p.m. A 60-49 defeat from the Pirates in Greenville started a 12-game losing streak for the Bulls.
A streak will end on Saturday night. The Pirates hope it’s their string of road futility.
“Obviously, we’ve got to get back in transition,” Perry said. “They’re struggling scoring the basketball. You don’t want to give them easy opportunities, whether it’s in transition or fouling and putting them at the free throw line so guys can get in rhythm and find other ways to score the basketball. You want to limit those opportunities for them. You don’t want to give them an opportunity to get offense off of your offense so we’ve got to limit our live ball turnovers.
“We’ve got to be able to score the basketball. We’ve got to continue to have confidence in our shooting. We’ve got to be loose offensively, continue to play unselfish.
“Whether it’s offense or defense, play at the level we’ve been playing at.”
Perry’s personal adjustments
Perry’s responsibilities have changed significantly since coach Jeff Lebo took a leave of absence for hip surgery on Jan. 16.
“It’s very humbling and it also can be very overwhelming,” Perry said. “You don’t completely understand the scope of responsibility when you’re an assistant compared to what it is for a head coach. Again, it’s humbling, and as privileged as a I feel to be in this position, it’s overwhelming.
“Obviously, I’ve had to fine tune my daily planner and try to stay organized with as many things as possible. You try to control the things that you can control. There are certainly a lot more things on my plate now. Organization is very important. I’m looking at more film. I’m probably sleeping less. I’m going to bed later and waking up earlier. I look at a lot of film at night and some in the morning before I come to work — not just about the opponent but also about our team, self evaluating, self scouting.
“There’s a lot of different responsibilities that, as an assistant coach, you’re aware of but you really don’t get the scope of it until you actually step into those shoes. It’s a privilege to be able to step into those shoes for Coach [Jeff] Lebo, given what’s happened but it’s a job. Obviously, it’s a job. My hat’s off to him for what he’s been able to do.”
Lebo’s involvement increasing
Lebo has progressed from a walker to a cane in his recovery. He also has been able to provide personal input.
“He’s been around,” Perry said. “This week, he’s been able to be in some practices. He was very limited last week but this week, he’s been able to be in some practices for some time.
“Two things he’s been able to do that are really, really impactful for us. He’s been able to coach the coaches. That’s one thing he’s been able to do, to share a lot of insight — not just on opponents but how we should handle our personnel. That’s been very, very fruitful in terms of our conversations and our meetings with him.
“With the players, he’s also able to add his insight in terms of what he’s been able to see, particularly in games, and being able to share some of those observations with them, particularly with Caleb and Kentrell and even Jeremy [Sheppard], some of those guys, Deng Riak. He’s had a chance to have some one on ones with those guys. He’s kind of given them his perspective on what he’s seeing in games. It’s been really great. It’s a different role for him, obviously, but it’s a role that we welcome and we totally embrace because he’s been very helpful here recently.”
Perry doesn’t know when Lebo might return to an active role on the sideline.
“Part of that is just nature in general and how his body is going to respond to the new hip and the rehab and the therapy,” Perry said. “There are a lot of different variables. Some of it is within his control and some of it is outside his control as far as trying to figure out his time for his return. The competitor that he is, he’s working hard to try to get back as soon as possible.”
Murry Bartow is coaching the Bulls on an interim basis with the departure of Orlando Antigua since the Pirates hosted USF on Dec. 28.
“It is unique, actually,” Perry said of the pair of interim coaches. “I just remember with [Murry] Bartow, we actually faced each other when I was the interim coach before at Georgia State . . . when he was at UAB . . . in a tournament in Hawaii.”
Perry directed Georgia State to a 74-63 win over the Blazers in that matchup.