East Carolina will try to verify that old adage regarding tournament basketball — that it’s tough to beat a good team three times — as the ninth-seeded Pirates (15-14) face eighth-seeded Cincinnati (17-14) in the opening game of the American Athletic Conference Tournament at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth today (ESPNU, 1 p.m.).
The winner advances to play top-seeded Houston (26-5) in the quarterfinals on Friday at 1 p.m. (ESPN2).
The Bearcats took both matchups in the regular season, 79-71 at Cincinnati on Jan. 12 and 60-59 at ECU on Jan. 30. David DeJulius scored the winning basket on a follow shot with three seconds remaining in the second contest.
ECU rallied from a 34-11 deficit when the teams met in Cincinnati.
Senior Vance Jackson has averaged 30 points against the Bearcats this season, scoring 35 at Fifth Third Arena and 25 in the second meeting in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.
Jackson made eight of 11 from beyond the arc on the road trip.
“He’s played well,” said Pirates coach Joe Dooley. “He’s been able to be on a little bit of a roll, … He had a really good second half at our place also.”
Jackson, who is 6 feet, 9 inches, had 14 points and seven rebounds in the final 20 minutes in Greenville.
“They play a bunch of front-line guys,” Dooley said of today’s opponent. “They play (Jeremiah) Davenport, then they play (Hayden) Koval, and they play Ody Oguama. So they play a number of frontline guys.”
The Pirates are coming off a 70-62 loss at Wichita State on Saturday that left them 6-11 in the AAC.
“Well, once we obviously knew we were playing Cincinnati, we focused on them, but we also focused on some things for us.” Dooley said Wednesday. “I mean, we’ve been able to practice. We’ve had almost everybody for practice. Hopefully, we’ll have everybody today, which will help because then we can get some timing, get some reps with all of our guys.”
The Pirates practiced at 1:30 on Wednesday afternoon at Texas Christian.
Brandon Suggs missed the game with the Shockers but is expected to be back today. Suggs is averaging 10.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.6 steals. Suggs was involved in a late-game scuffle in ECU’s 64-59 home win over Tulsa on Feb. 26.
“The totality of the deal was that it was a suspension, and the real problems came in when Alexis (Reyes) got hurt in practice and J.J. (Miles) got sick. So I mean, that just really hurt our wing position, because you went from having three guys that could play that position.
“We ended up being really small with Javon (Small), Tremont (Robinson-White) and Tristen (Newton). R.J. (Felton) gave us some good minutes but R.J. had just come back off of being hurt. He’s not ready to play 30 minutes in a game yet, just from a conditioning standpoint because of being injured. We’re as close to healthy as we’ve been in a while.”
For the second straight season, COVID absences and injuries have taken a toll on the Pirates. Dooley himself was sidelined for a span last year.
“Part of coaching is trying to figure out and make adjustments,” Dooley said. “We went through that streak where we had no J.J., and it’s been plugging guys back in and out, which is part of it. And that being said, you’d like to be like some of these other teams that have had their guys out there the entire time, because you get familiarity, you get your rotation. But when these things happen, you just have to make adjustments, unfortunately.”
The Pirates have played from behind for much of the way against Cincinnati this season.
“I wouldn’t want to be behind like we were, especially at their place,” Dooley said. “We lost the game at home, and we shot 28 percent, and they beat us on a last-second shot, so we have had the ability to hold some of those deals down.
“But then that’s part of it — is fighting these things off. And they are a good transition defensive team. In our place, we did a nice job of not letting them get out. So it’ll be interesting to see what happens.”
Dooley talked about keys today.
“Well, DeJulius is a really good player, and so is Davenport,” said the ECU coach. “Two-thirds of Davenport’s shots are threes. He’s really good with range. They sort of flip the floor with the four-man. It’s really a three-man playing the four. So he’s really a perimeter guy, which is a part of it.
“And then DeJulius is a guy that can take and make tough shots. Mika Adams-Woods has played well against us. … So they play a lot of frontline guys. Koval and Abdu Ado are really good shot blockers. Ody Oguama is a good duck-in guy. So they’ve got some pieces.
“They’re really going to pressure you defensively. So I mean, I think that’s something. … You can’t turn it over, that would really help.”
The Pirates have totaled 29 turnovers in the two games with Cincinnati.
High noon in Texas
The Pirates will get going early today and, in effect, will be playing for another early start on Friday.
“Oh, it’s noon here, so it is what it is,” Dooley said of the tipoff time. “It’s the time you’re assigned. That’s what we’re going to get up and do. So if we play at nine o’clock in the morning, be excited about playing at nine in the morning. Play 10 o’clock at night, be excited about playing at 10 o’clock at night.”