East Carolina doesn’t have the best team in the American Athletic Conference, but it may have the team that plays the hardest. The shots don’t always fall, but the effort continues to be relentless.
On Saturday night against Tulane, the shots did fall. ECU shot 52 percent from the field in its 81-62 win. Pirate coach Joe Dooley said it all started with defense.
“I thought our defense got us off to a good start and when you make some shots, you get a little bit more confidence,” said Dooley after the win. “I thought with the exception of the first five or six minutes of the second half, I thought we actually played pretty well and did some good things. We were a little lethargic to come out of the half, but I thought our energy in the first half and our defense really set the tone for us and gave us a little bit of confidence to get going.”
Jayden Gardner continued to make a case for not only first-team all-conference honors, but also a case for the league’s top player. Gardner scored 27 points and hauled in 13 rebounds for yet another double-double.
While Gardner did his damage inside, J.J. Miles took care of business on the outside. Miles was 7-9 from the three-point line for 21 points. I joked from the stands that he was just too close for the three shots he took from inside the three-point line.
Miles came to ECU as a legitimate outside threat. He certainly played that part on Saturday night.
“It’s a weird deal,” explained Dooley. “We don’t judge it on whether the ball goes in or not — you have to — but we really emphasize taking good shots. I thought for the most part tonight we took good shots. We had a stretch where we took a couple of bad ones. J.J. took good open ones, but matter of fact, he probably turned down two or three I wish he would’ve shot. He had one in the far corner in the first half and another by our bench he should have shot, and probably one or two in the second half I wish he would’ve shot, but we’ll just keep working.
“We’ve had nights like against Tulsa. We went back and looked at it. We had 15 open shots and it makes the players look a lot better, and it makes us look a lot better when the ball goes in.”
Saturday’s win was on a different level for this basketball team. The Pirates bolted out to a huge lead and were really never threatened. Tulane did cut the Pirate lead down to 11 in the second half, but that’s as close as the Green Wave would get.
“It was nice to respond when they cut it to 11,” said Dooley. “That was frustrating because we were really lackadaisical to start the second half. I think we turned it over four of our first five possessions. We had an open shot we turned into a turnover. Even late in the game, we had guys wide open. With J.J., he has a lay-up and he doesn’t look, and they sail a ball by his head. Those are things we need to clean up. But I thought we were pretty crisp for the most part.”
The Pirate crowd certainly enjoyed the big win over Tulane. A crowd of just under 5,000 rocked and rolled for two hours at Williams Arena.
“That’s something we’ve talked about,” said Dooley, when he was asked home much of a difference the crowd made. “I do think hopefully this is a team our fans can grow with. We’ll have these guys back next year, and hopefully we can get them bigger and stronger, and keep getting better. Home court does give an advantage. It’s a big deal. The energy you can feed off the fans and sometimes it can help rally you.”
The Pirates didn’t need a big rally against the Green Wave.
Wednesday night should be different. Nationally-ranked Houston comes a calling at Williams Arena. The Cougars are tied for first with Tulsa in the AAC.
The Pirate basketball program is making strides right before our eyes.
See for yourself this Wednesday. These Pirates have earned the right to play in front of a big crowd.
Minges Coliseum can be a great home court advantage. It will need to be this week against the Cougars.