Football success at East Carolina has a widespread effect that basketball coach Joe Dooley acknowledged on the day that a new $11.5 million contract extension through 2026 was announced for grid boss Mike Houston.
The Pirates are 7-5 going into the Military Bowl in Annapolis on Dec. 27. Houston has been rewarded for the program’s first winning season and postseason trip since the 2014 campaign.
The flagship sport helps set the tone for the school year at ECU, according to the hoops coach.
“It creates a whole mindset around campus, that success, in that people are in a better mood,” Dooley said. “They’re not as angry or not as negative. So I think it helps. It’s just a feeling of, ‘Let’s get behind your university or behind your team,’ and I think coming out of a nice fall, like we’ve had, I think it creates some excitement, some enthusiasm. It’s usually helps basketball and all the other teams, and rolls into baseball season.”
Learning from a loss
ECU is 6-2 with wins over Coppin State and Old Dominion since falling to Davidson, 76-67, in the Pirates’ third game of the Myrtle Beach Invitational on Nov. 21. ECU led the Wildcats, 45-34, at the half.
“Well, you have to be able to finish those games to progress, and we did enough good things, especially in the first half,” Dooley said. “Now, in the second half, we missed some shots and turned it over on some things that we’d never turned it over on.
“We had a side out of bounds play where we threw the ball right to them. We had a press situation where we inbounded the ball and threw the ball right to them. So those were four points. But we’d done enough good things. And even late, we were still in the game. We were down two with 1:03 left and had the ball. We’ve got to be able to figure some of those things out.”
Return to normalcy
Things are more on an even keel than 2020-21 when Dooley was among those in the program who had to miss games due to protocols.
“It’s much more normal,” Dooley said. “Yeah, it feels like it, but then you’re also looking around and you’re seeing that there’s some guys, they’re not playing, they’re COVID-related deals. Those things are all in the back of your mind, are always lurking because it just takes one or two guys and that’s 16 days. In football, that’s two games, and in basketball, that could be anywhere from six to four. So that always concerns you.”
Dooley said players who haven’t been vaccinated are tested regularly,
“If you’re not vaccinated, you’re tested, and everyone else is not tested unless they have symptoms,” Dooley said. “It’s the policy.”
Washington was supposed to play at Arizona on Thursday night, but play was postponed due to COVID issues involving the Huskies.
Toppin’ Coppin State
ECU had the ball in Tristen Newton’s hands with the score tied at 68 in the final seconds against visiting Coppin State on Saturday.
“He’s got good size, he can get to the paint, and he’s a guy that will take some tough shots, but he’ll make some tough shots,” Dooley said . “He’s got good confidence. I think that he’s a guy that can create his own shot. Like I said, he’s got good height, and he’s able to get to certain spots and raise up and make shots.”
Newton dribbled from the right side to the left elbow and put up a 14-footer that provided a 70-68 win at the buzzer.
Jayden Gardner averaged 18.3 points and 8.3 rebounds last season before transferring to Virginia, but ECU has more balance this season. Brandon Suggs had 25 points against Coppin State and transfer Vance Jackson tallied 21 in a 63-62 home win Tuesday night against ODU.
“We’re a little bit different,” Dooley said. “We’ve been able to have different guys step up on different nights, Vance, against Old Dominion, and obviously, Brandon had a really big game against Coppin State with 25 points. But I think we’re tweaking the way we play. Obviously, shooting the three has helped us a little bit more. We’re shooting 39 percent from three, which spaces the floor a little bit more, and I think that’s something that we’ve got to continue to do. I think it will help us offensively.”
Right defensive call
ECU’s second win of the season over ODU was sealed by a steal with under five seconds left.
“We looked at their lineup and we called a timeout and we essentially pre-switched it,” Dooley said of the situation with the Monarchs inbounding at the ECU offensive end.. “We took Tristen and put him on (Kalu) Ezikpe. … When he came and set the back screen, essentially we just switched the back screen. … They threw the ball long, Brandon (Johnson) was alert and picked it off.:”
Getting ready for Saturday.
The Pirates host Gardner-Webb on Saturday at 3 p.m. The Bulldogs (4-3) have some weapons.
“(Kareem) Reid, obviously, and the guard, No. 4 (D’Maurian Williams), terrific,” Dooley said. “Reid’s leading the nation in field goal percentage (76.8 percent). Offensively, (Williams), is a really good shooter, shoots the ball really well off the floppy action, good downhill drive. (Coach) Tim (Craft, former ECU assistant) has done a really good job, changed defenses, spread the floor offensively, and we’ve got our hands full.”
The current hoops season will likely have its third No. 1 team next week.
“You look around and there’s a handful of really good teams,” Dooley said. “… I think the pretty cool thing you’ve seen is it seems like people are playing more big games early in the season, from the Champions Classic all the way through Duke-Gonzaga, and those type of games, so I do think people are trying to get a little bit of a test and a little bit of a barometer for who they really are a little bit, maybe even a little bit earlier in the season than they have in the past years.”
With nine first-year players, the Pirates are still defining their identity.
“You go through things where guys get hurt or guys are sitting, all these types of things,” Dooley said. “We essentially played without J.J. (Miles) the other day. We played without (Alanzo) Frink on Tuesday. We’ve played without (Wynston) Tabbs the entire year. Marlon Lestin gets a chance the other day because Zo Frink can’t play. So guys are just preparing in practice and being prepared to play in games.
“I think your teams are always changing because you don’t know between injuries. And now, the last two years, sickness has really impacted your team because of the duration the guys will be out.”
Tabbs, who averaged 13.3 points before transferring from Boston College, is still in the process of having a medical situation defined.