East Carolina wrapped up 2019 with a hard-fought win over a stubborn Eastern Kentucky team, 82-74.
Just a month ago this was a game that the Pirates wouldn’t have won.
Like Pirate coach Mike Houston in football, ECU basketball coach Joe Dooley is trying desperately to change the culture in his program.
Instead of being upset at home just before the start of conference play, this Pirate team gutted out a win.
ECU now heads to Wichita State riding a four-game winning streak. It’s the first four game win streak for ECU since 2013.
“We’ve talked to our guys that we need to make this an expectation, and that is by building things over the course of time,” said Dooley after the win Saturday night. “You can’t take winning for granted, either, because everybody says that it is not easy. I do think there is a little bit of confidence from winning four in a row, and at one point we’ll have eight of nine games here and you get a little bit of familiarity of things.”
Dooley’s Pirates aren’t anywhere close to where they hope to be this season. Still, winning solves a whole bunch of problems. ECU committed 15 first-half turnovers, but was still able to get over the hump and get the win.
It’s obvious that these guys are finally getting to know one another. This was a completely new team featuring 11 new recruits this season, and that unfamiliarity reared its ugly head time and time again early on.
Tyrie “Pig” Jackson was one of Saturday’s heroes for ECU. Jackson scored 16 points and was 4-7 from the three point line.
“I feel like the guys have really recognized where we are at in the season and how important it was to get this win,” Jackson said. “It’s also important to be locked in every day in practice.”
Jackson’s nickname is an odd one for a basketball player. I wondered if he picked it up by not sharing the basketball. I asked him if he was called ‘Pig’ because he ‘hogged’ the basketball.
Jackson looked at me and smiled.
“Not at all,” he said. “My auntie said that all I liked to do when I was little was to eat. So she stuck me with the nickname ‘Pig.’ It’s all good though.”
Tyree is one of the new leaders of this team.
“We are really clicking as a team and coming together as one,” Jackson said. “Every day we’re trying to focus on getting better at everything and coming together, and I feel like the guys around have really recognized where we’re at in the season and how important it is to win, and how important it is to be locked in every day in practice.”
Jayden Gardner continues to play like a 1st-team, All-American Athletic Conference performer. Gardner scored 25 points and hauled in 14 rebounds in his first game since being named as the league’s player of the week last week.
With all of the positivity of December, this Pirate team now goes on the road to open conference play at Wichita State on New Year’s Day. The Shockers are 10-1 to start the year with wins over the likes of South Carolina, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Virginia Commonwealth.
Wichita State is unbeaten this year at home at 8-0. The Pirates are 0-3 on the road so far this year.
Odds are certainly stacked against ECU in its American Athletic Conference opener. ECU will then have that next weekend off before hosting South Florida next Tuesday at Williams Arena in Greenville.
Here’s looking forward to an exciting Spring in Greenville. Pirate basketball is on the rise and Pirate baseball is always in contention for championships.
2020 is here. Happy New Year!