While much of the country was tuned into Clemson’s 44-16 win over Alabama on Monday night for the College Football Playoff championship, East Carolina basketball coach Joe Dooley was otherwise occupied.
“I watched Memphis-Houston tape,” Dooley said. “I listened a little bit. I heard the score. That was about it.”
The Pirates (8-6, 1-1 AAC) are looking to follow up on a stunning 73-71 home win over Cincinnati on Saturday as they visit the Tigers (9-6, 1-1) tonight for a 9 p.m. tipoff (TV: ESPNU).
ECU was coming off an 82-54 loss at Southern Methodist as they shot 51.1 percent from the floor against the Bearcats (12-3, 1-1), who are limiting opponents to 59.2 points per game.
“We thought for the first 17 or so minutes at SMU, we played real well,” Dooley said. “We were right there and we talked about how when runs are made, you have to answer runs.
“In preparation for a team like Cincinnati, it’s a little unorthodox because of the way they play and defend. They’re such a great defensive team.
“I think seeing the ball go in the basket after we got off to such a bad start sort of gave our guys some confidence. We rebounded the ball pretty well which is also a big deal because they’re such a good rebounding team.”
The Pirates trailed 9-0 against Cincinnati.
Freshman plays big
Freshman Jayden Gardner had 13 points and 12 rebounds on Saturday.
“The big thing we’ve talked about is how competitive he is,” Dooley said. “That showed with how he rebounded the ball and pursued it. It’s going to be a work in progress. He’s so young. All these guys, just trying to figure out the length and athleticism. He’ll figure it out. They’ll be some hard lessons, but he’ll figure it out with experience.”
Another strong Cincinnati team
Cincinnati won the AAC Tournament last season in Orlando as the No. 1 seed. The Bearcats had taken their AAC opener, 93-61, at home against Tulane.
“They’re 18 in the RPI,” Dooley said of the Bearcats. “Ohio State, top 25. They lost at Mississippi State. … Mick (Cronin, Cincinnati coach) has a really great team. He’s done a great job with that program. We played well. We shot the ball well, which makes up for a multitude of sins. We did play well.”
ECU made nine of 22 beyond the arc against Cincinnati, a sparkling 40.9 percent.
“That’s the whole key is answering,” Dooley said. “If you don’t score, you’ve really got to tighten your defense up. For the most part, they shot a high percentage but a lot them were transition layups. Our defensive stats for the most part have been good enough to win some games. We need to be a little more efficient offensively, continue to rebound and continue to guard.”
Potentially-costly error averted
The Pirates lost possession at the Bearcats’ end of the floor with 6.5 seconds left with a five-second violation on a throw-in.
Dooley had said during a timeout before the inbounds attempt that ECU had another timeout to use if senior Isaac Fleming could not get the ball inbounds.
“That’s something that we need to make sure that our guys are on the same page,” Dooley said. “We’ll continue to do some late game situation stuff. Guys make mistakes. Coaches make mistakes. I think if Isaac could so it again, he would call the timeout. He thought he could get it in. He said, ‘My mistake.’ I think next time he gets in that situation, he’ll hopefully make a different play.
“It is what it is, but then we were tough enough to get a stop. If you make a mistake, make up for it.”
Justice Obasohan blocked the Bearcats’ final shot attempt.
“That’s another guy that stepped up,” Dooley said. “He gave us big minutes. Obviously, everybody forgets he had to step in cold to make a free throw. Blocks a shot. He makes a big layup on a great pass from Seth (LeDay). He just gave us really good minutes.”
The Pirates were 17.5-point underdogs against Cincinnati. Memphis is rated a 15-point favorite tonight.
Dooley was asked about momentum from the Cincinnati win. He pointed out that ECU will face an adjustment in playing style.
“I think it gives you some confidence,” Dooley said of potential carryover. “After you put that behind you, you’ve got to prepare. It’s a different game. The tempo is different. The pace of the game is different. The way they play is different. You’ve got to switch gears.”
The Pirates took a commercial flight to Memphis. They also will fly commercial from Memphis to Orlando for a Sunday game at Central Florida.
“We’ll come charter back, … so we don’t miss school on Monday,” Dooley said. “We’ll practice in Orlando on Friday and Saturday. We’ll do some recruiting in Florida. We play Sunday afternoon (4 p.m.) and we’ll come back Sunday after the game.”