While most of the world had an eye on the Duke-Carolina game on Saturday night I had a strategic location staked out at one of my favorite sports bars to watch that contest as well as the East Carolina-Tulane matchup in New Orleans.
As Duke and Carolina added another crazy chapter to their storied rivalry a few of us watched as ECU basketball finally got over the hump on the road.
It certainly was a tough time slot for the Pirates as far as ratings go, but perhaps the team picked up a few new fans with the road win.
Joe Dooley’s young squad took a big step as a program with their 81-67 victory over Tulane. The triumph completed the season sweep over the Green Wave.
“I thought we did some good things,” Coach Dooley said afterwards in his interview on the Learfield IMG College Network. “We got off to a good start and the guys played with good energy. It is hard to win on the road. It’s a good road win. I think it helps our guys a little bit. We’ve been on a little bit of a tear going the wrong way and hopefully we can use this as momentum to finish the season out.”
Sophomore forward Jayden Gardner scored 20 points and hauled in 8 rebounds in the win. Freshman Tristen Newton scored 18 points and had nine rebounds.
ECU improved to 10-14 overall and 4-7 in the American Athletic Conference.
The Pirates can play with just about any team in the American if they shoot the ball well, rebound and hit their free throws. That was the winning combination against Tulane. East Carolina shot just under 53 percent from the field. The Pirates went 20-of-24 from the free throw line and out-rebounded the Green Wave 46-26.
Wins in the American are simply hard to come by. The Pirates play at Tulsa (7-3 AAC) and then return home to take on Cincinnati (8-3). After a trip to Memphis (6-4) the schedule lightens up some. The final four games of the regular season feature games against teams with similar records as the Pirates.
ECU hosts Temple (4-7), plays at USF (4-6), then hosts UConn (4-6) before closing out the regular season at UCF (4-7).
The Pirates have already surpassed last year’s mark of 3-15 in league play and have equaled their total win total of ten.
“We just have to keep on getting better,” said Dooley. “We should play hard every minute of every game, and that hasn’t been the case at times this season.”
Young teams grow up in spurts. This Pirate team is literally growing up in front of our eyes. There have been plenty of ups and downs this year, but hopefully these growing pains will pay dividends as soon as next season.
The Pirates won’t run the table, but hopefully this is a team that can steal a couple of more wins to build on for next season.