They haven’t ordered any banners to hang in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum based on East Carolina’s 4-0 start to the 2020-21 season but Pirates coach Joe Dooley saw improvement in an 88-78 overtime win at home over UNC-Wilmington on Monday evening.
“I thought we did some things a lot better,” Dooley said. “Obviously, Wilmington has got some weapons. (Jaylen) Sims really can put you in harm’s way. (Mike) Okauru is a really good player. The (Jamahri) Harvey kid had an excellent game. He hadn’t made any threes. He jumped up and made a couple of threes (2-for-5) against us.
“We were better in some areas but there still are some areas, like I think all schools are feeling, we’ve got to get some things cleaned up. It’s going to be a little bit of a work in progress. We’ve got a list of things that we want to continue to work on on a daily basis. We’re just going to have to keep knocking them down.”
The Seahawks had a 30-6 run for a 67-57 lead with just over seven minutes to go. That was after ECU led 51-35 late in the first half.
“A lot of it was our offense,” Dooley said of the major lull by the Pirates. “They scored a lot of points. A lot of it was live-ball turnovers. A lot of them were bad plays. … Our shot selection in the first couple of minutes of the second half was very shaky at best. I think we scored so many points in the first half, we thought we’d come back out and do it again. We came out and didn’t take as good a shots and didn’t move the ball as well. Obviously, when you turn the ball over like we did, you put yourself in harm’s way.
“The other thing is that I thought Wilmington amped up their defense, so it was a little bit of both.”
To the Pirates credit, they got things turned around down the stretch. Brandon Suggs and J.J. Miles were among those stepping up for ECU.
“We stopped turning it over,” Dooley said. “We started getting some stops and then we made some timely shots. Brandon’s 3-point shot, J.J.’s 3-point shot. Bitumba (Baruti) hit a big three in front of our bench. And then getting some stops. I thought we got on a little bit of a roll in overtime. I thought our confidence came back. I thought we lost confidence, which you can’t do. We lost it for a little bit when things weren’t going right. You’ve just got to plug on through it. It’s almost like we played three different games.”
Gardner finishes strong
Jayden Gardner scored eight of his 16 points in the extra period. His point production was below his 20.3 average. UNCW coach Takayo Siddle said ECU moved Gardner away from the basket in the late stages and that made him tougher to defend.
“I didn’t think Jayden had one of his better games,” Dooley said. “He’d be the first one to say it. He missed a couple of cheapies at the rim. We needed to put him in some space. I thought our offensive spacing in the second half got stagnant. We didn’t move well off the ball. The coaches need to be able to get these guys moving. Maybe we could have moved around a little bit more. The players could have moved after they made some passes. It’s a combination and we’ve got to continue to work on that.”
Greater sense of purpose
The Pirates have almost everyone back from a team that went 11-20 overall and 5-13 in the American Athletic Conference last season.
“I think there’s a lot more continuity,” Dooley said. “We’ve played together. There’s been some semblance of guys knowing what they’ve been doing and what we’re trying to do. There are a lot of things we need to clean up.
“A lot of these things you can’t clean up until you’ve played games. A lot of things in practice are different. You see some things and you try to simulate some things that other people are doing and you can’t do it in practice. The speed of the game is quicker. For the guys to adjust to the speed of the game, they just need to play. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
When ECU hosts North Florida (0-6) at 5 p.m. this evening, it will present another opportunity for the Pirates to get valuable game experience.
Getting better on defense has a high priority.
“We need to guard the dribble better,” Dooley said. “Watching games throughout the country, that seems to be everybody’s concern. … Our transition defense needs to be better, not to give up so many easy baskets. Our field goal percentage defense is pretty good. It’s at 41 percent but if we didn’t give up so many easy baskets in transition, we could get that down.
“And just to clean up the offense, where there’s more movement with a better pace. That I think will come with running the offense more and getting even more confident.”
The Pirates have been able to concentrate on basketball exclusively since exams concluded several weeks ago.
“We’ve been done since the Friday before Thanksgiving,” Dooley said. “We’ve got a pretty good routine. … Until a little bit ago, we had been coming in and doing skill work and shooting in the morning. We let them go back and probably lift and then let them relax — go home and eat and rest for a little bit. Then we’d come back and practice in the afternoon.
“Now, we’ve sort of flipped it a little bit. We’re practicing full in the morning. Like for example, we’ve already practiced (Wednesday) morning. We’ll come back this afternoon. We’ll shoot free throws. We’ll shoot. We’ll go through the scouting report. We’ll watch film. We’ll feed them dinner, then we’ll send them home.”
The Pirates’ opponent this evening will put it up from long range.
“A very good 3-point shooting team,” Dooley said. “They’ve made 300-plus the last couple of years. The last four years, they’ve made over 300 threes each year. They really shoot a lot of threes in transition. Their best player broke his leg. (Carter) Hendrickson, unfortunately, is out for them. He’s a really good player, a junior. … They’ve got some real good guards. They like to push it in transition. … They’re playing a lot more man (defense) than previously. When I was at Florida Gulf Coast, he (Ospreys coach Matt Driscoll) was almost exclusively zone. Now, he’s playing just about 50-50 with the 2-3 zone and the man-to-man.”
Important factors for ECU
Defending the arc and controlling North Florida misses will be important as the Pirates look to move to 5-0.
“Chasing them off the line,” Dooley said of key factors. ” … They’re going to shoot a ton of them. If they can’t jump up and make 14 of 15 threes that will be a big part of their offense. I’ve been a little bit disappointed in the way we’ve defensive rebounded the ball. Hopefully, we’ll rebound the ball a little bit better than we have.
“Our numbers are good, not great, but I still think we can be a better rebounding team.”
After tonight, the Pirates get into league play.
“(At) SMU on Wednesday,” Dooley said. “A very talented offensive team, probably the most offensively-talented team in our league. I think they’re an NCAA Tournament team. They just won at Dayton (66-64, Saturday). … They have very good balance, multiple position guys who can do a lot of things — drive it, pass it, shoot it. So, very tough matchup.”
Adjustments are the norm in the midst of the current pandemic.
“It’s a new experience for all of us,” Dooley said. “I think everybody is trying to figure it out on the fly. I do think there’s some strangeness to it, but you still get to coach and you still get to play so let’s put our head down and let’s plug at it.”
One change has been 5 p.m. tipoffs at home.
“It allows you to get home earlier,” Dooley said. “That’s in the best interest of the kids. That helps a little bit. Some of these times will be dictated by TV, but some of the other ones … . It keeps the staff around a little less. I do think it helps.”