East Carolina Coach Joe Dooley would have liked nothing more than to have come into this second stint in Greenville and won right away.
That didn’t happen last year during a 10-21 campaign highlighted by the upset win over Cincinnati.
This year, Dooley’s Pirates are off to a 1-3 start after falling to a big, experienced Liberty team at home on Saturday afternoon. After beating VMI on opening night, the Pirates have lost games at Navy, at Appalachian State and to Liberty.
The Flames were a first-round winner in last year’s NCAA tournament. Liberty is what Coach Dooley wants his program to become.
The Pirates started slowly, especially on offense. Liberty built a first-half lead utilizing three layups that were given up in a half court set.
ECU would hang tough in the first half. Liberty hit a 3-point shot with just seconds to go to extend its lead to six at the break.
The second half was a much different and frustrating story for Dooley and the Pirates. The Flames opened the second stanza on a 19-7 run, turning a six-point advantage into a commanding 18-point lead.
“They imposed their will from the beginning of the second half all the way through the end,” Pirate coach Joe Dooley said. “I was disappointed in our lack of ability to bounce back. … We have a long way to go defensively and we have a long way to go toughness-wise. That is the biggest thing to me.”
The one, huge positive for this Pirate basketball program is the play of sophomore Jayden Gardner. Gardner is an absolute man-child inside. He went for 26 points and 11 rebounds in the loss.
Still, Dooley and company have to get more out of the rest of the roster. Injuries have certainly hurt this team’s cohesiveness in the early going. The talent is much improved, but Dooley knows his Pirates have a long way to go and not a lot of time to get there.
Dooley was emphatic that his Pirates have to play harder and be much tougher. The lack of free throws for his team said volumes.
“It was an absolute debacle,” Dooley said. “Free throws, those are all toughness plays to me. You make your free throws, you don’t get out-rebounded, and it shows how long we have to go.”
There was positive news out of the Pirate camp on Monday that can help the cause. Guards Tyrie “Pig” Jackson and Tremont Robinson-White are back in the rotation.
Dooley also announced that big man Ludgy Debaut will redshirt as he rehabs an injured foot.
The Pirates now hit the road for the Bahamas and a matchup in the first round of the Islands of the Bahamas Showcase against Evansville. All the Purple Aces did this past week was knock off top-ranked Kentucky on the road.
Then, depending on the first round result, the Pirates will play either Missouri-Kansas City or George Washington the next day. The other four teams in the event are Liberty, Morgan State, Rice and Milwaukee. The Flames are the only team in the field coming off of a winning season.
All games will be played at the Kendal Isaacs National Gymnasium in the Bahamas.
Evansville was just 11-21 last season and they beat the top ranked team in the country this season. Things can certainly change in a hurry in college basketball.
Joe Dooley wants his team to get healthier and to grow up in a hurry.
I don’t think Dooley and the Pirates will be seeing a lot of beach time this week. It’s a business trip, and a trip that Dooley and company see as an opportunity to get better.