East Carolina basketball coach Joe Dooley was obviously embarrassed with the way his team was playing defense this season.
That defensive issue really stood out in ECU’s 85-75 loss to Coppin State.
Dooley knew his club would have a chance to really work out some of those defensive kinks during exam week. With no games on the schedule, the Pirates did indeed go hard on defense.
Several players smiled when I asked about how hard they were working to shore up the defense leading up to the Campbell game. It was evident that defense was the main exam these Pirates were studying for during exam week.
They obviously worked hard.
That worked paid big dividends on Saturday night, when East Carolina knocked off visiting Campbell, 79-67, inside Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum. It was the Pirates’ first win since November 22nd when ECU upset Evansville down in the Bahamas.
This ECU team passed the defense exam, at least for one game.
Dooley says the Campbell game was won during practice.
“First thing we talked about is practice usually leads to some type of result,” Dooley said. “I’ve seen where you’ve practiced horrible, then played great. Then I’ve seen it when you practice the exact opposite. We had a good week of preparation. I said to the guys, we probably won five of the last six practices. We were good. We won the day.”
The Pirates certainly won on the free throw line. ECU was 26-29 from the charity stripe in the win. Getting to the free throw line was huge. Making all of those free throws was the difference in the basketball game.
Jayden Gardner was 14-16 from the line on his way to a 22-point performance.
“It’s huge,” Gardner said when asked about his team making all of those free throws. “We’ve been working on free throws every day as well. It was nice that the team locked in tonight and everybody stepped up from the free throw line.”
The defensive issues were due in part to the multitude of injuries this ECU team has had to deal with since opening camp in October. The Pirates have yet to have a complete roster to work with, but the team is getting closer to being at full-strength.
Dooley hopes his team will look back at this performance as a turning point in the season.
“You’ve seen teams that started slowly and gotten better all year,” Dooley explained. “And you see teams that start out great and sort of fizzle off at the end. Hopefully we sort of keep building and these young guys will figure some things out. They need to.”
Dooley hopes his team will continue to show improvement later tonight, when the Pirates play host to Maryland-Eastern Shore in a 7 p.m. tip at Williams Arena. ECU then closes out the pre-Christmas slate hosting in-state rival Charlotte this coming Sunday afternoon.