Within the disappointment of a 69-59 home loss to No. 21 Houston on Wednesday night, sophomore Jayden Gardner gave Pirate fans something to cheer. Gardner had two shots blocked early in the American Athletic Conference contest but he responded to the rocky start with 29 points, 19 rebounds and three assists.
ECU needs to collectively come back from the loss to the Cougars with the resiliency that Gardner showed against the bigger opposition he faced in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum the last time out as the Pirates head to Temple for a tipoff on Saturday at 6 p.m.
“He got off to a little bit of a rough start but I thought that he pulled himself together,” said ECU coach Joe Dooley. “A lot of good things. … Houston does a great job, They load up. They’re very athletic. It’s hard to simulate their length and athleticism. What Jayden did, he made some very nice adjustments.”
Injuries to seven-footers Edra Luster and Ludgy Debautv have not only impacted the ECU rotation but they have left Gardner and the Pirates with a lack of size in practice as they prepare for the big men they face.
“With him (Luster) and Ludgy being out, it’s different,” Dooley said. “You go from having some height. Now, all of a sudden, Samson Strickland is a really good hard worker but he’s 6-5. Charles (Coleman, 7-0) is generally on the same team as Jayden. They don’t match up quite a bit so they don’t get to simulate that much.”
Coleman, a highly-recruited manchild in the middle continues, to develop.
“He gave us some good minutes,” Dooley said. “Unfortunately, he got in a little bit of foul trouble. He’s starting to figure some things out.”
During the 19 minutes and 31 seconds that Coleman was in the game, the Pirates outscored the visitors by nine points.
There were more positive numbers from Wednesday night.
ECU was even on the boards with Houston as each club had 43 rebounds. The Pirates had fewer turnovers, 10-8.
“There were several winning numbers,” Dooley said. “Houston is not going to give you anything so you have to help yourself. We didn’t help ourselves enough from the free throw line, the 3-point line. Getting timely stops. They’re not going to help you so you’ve got to figure out some ways to make sure they don’t do what they do. That’s hard to do.”
ECU was 17 of 26 on free throws (65.4 percent). The Pirates hit just four of 23 from beyond the arc, a paltry 17.4 percent.
Gardner was 11 of 19 from the floor. His teammates went eight for 39 (20.5 percent).
“They were bad,” Dooley said of the accuracy from everybody but Gardner, whose No. 1 jersey seems more and more appropriate. “That’s one of the things, you have to make sure that you make some shots. Some of the timely deals on some of the free throws, some missed open shots. We need to step up and, hopefully, make some of those.”
There were 4,406 on hand to see the promising Pirates host a nationally-ranked foe. That left quite a few empty seats in a building with a capacity of 8,000.
With ECU games available for viewing on a variety of devices, Dooley understands how the home court advantage can diminish, especially on a week night.
“I think people with work or if you have children with school during the week if you have to travel some distance, you factor in parking, getting home if it’s a distance, it can be very inconvenient for a lot of people,” Dooley said. “A school or work night, it’s harder, no doubt.”
The basketball world was stunned with the tragic death of former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash on Sunday. Bryant was in transit to a youth basketball event with his daughter, Gianna.
“The families of the nine people that passed, it gives you thoughts about how fleeting or quickly things can change,” Dooley said. “They’re going to a youth basketball game and everything’s probably great. The next thing you know, nine people have unfortunately passed away. That just makes everyone pause and reflect, I think.”
The Owls are 10-10 overall and 2-6 in the conference under first-year coach Aaron McKie, a former Temple player.
The Owls are allowing 65.5 points per game.
“They have a good deal of experience,” Dooley said. “They’re very good defensively. Their defensive numbers are very good. … Obviously, (Quinton) Rose and (Nate) Peirre-Louie are really good players, double-figure scorers in league play. I think (Jake) Forrester has made a big jump. They’ve got some young guys. Pierre-Louie’s brother, Josh, I think is going to be a really good player. They’ve got a transfer — Monty Scott transferred from Kennesaw State — who I coached against (at Gulf Coast). I think they’ve got some good pieces.”
ECU (9-12, 3-5) is flying charter for its conference games on the road this season. The Pirates used to fly charter for weeknight games to get players back on campus for classes. For weekend games, the ECU team took commercial flights.
“We travel (Friday),” Dooley said of the pending contest. “We’re chartering (Friday) afternoon. We’ll come back after the game Saturday night. … It makes it a lot quicker.
“We’ve got Central Florida next Thursday and we’re at Tulane next Saturday. We’ll charter to New Orleans.”
Dooley works practice around the travel schedule..
“A lot of times we’ll practice here,” said the Pirates coach. “(Friday), we won’t be. We’ve got an earlier charter. Usually what we do is we practice here, then we’ll fly to where we’re flying and get in the hotel. We’ll practice at Temple. Usually, we practice here. But because of the plane we could get, it’s not a typical travel day.”
Making repairs for Saturday
The Houston setback will serve to show what ECU needs to improve upon.
“I think there are some things we can see on the tape that will help us,” Dooley said. “There are some positives we can show. I think there are some things that are learning deals. We can’t dwell on (the Houston game). We’ll get a quick turnaround. We’ll spend a lot of time (Thursday) looking at Temple’s personnel and trying to fix some of the things that we didn’t do well.”