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View from the 'ville
Friday, February 25, 2011

By Al Myatt

Emotions high for UTEP

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Texas-El Paso coach Tim Floyd and a Miners assistant were ejected from East Carolina's 83-76 basketball win in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum on Wednesday night.

"It's the end of February," said Pirates coach Jeff Lebo after his team improved to 14-13 overall with its program record sixth win in Conference USA. "It's emotional for everybody. ... Players are fatigued mentally and physically. The officials are too.

"At this time of year, everybody is a little bit on edge. They're tired and they're worn out and they've been traveling. We've had 26 or 27 games. It's an odd time. It was an emotional game and things like that happen.

"I don't think anybody ever goes into it thinking that this is going to happen. Sometimes, things just escalate and they become part of the game."

UTEP had a makeup game with Central Florida on Monday morning and then made the trip from El Paso.

"They flew here Monday after that game," Lebo said. "They played at like 11 o'clock, UTEP time. We did get 'em at an odd time. That flight from El Paso to here — I guess they went into Raleigh — is a tough one."

ECU shot 45 free throws to 17 for the Miners. As Lebo has said, the team that shoots the most free throws often wins.

Jamar Abrams had 25 points to lead the Pirates. He made eight of 11 from the field, including five of seven from 3-point land. Abrams dropped four of six free throws.

"He's such an important part of what we do, especially on the offensive end ," Lebo said. "He's struggled to date with his shooting but he really came out of it and we needed it. He scored in some different ways, too, for us, which was nice to see. He put the ball on the floor a little bit. He just didn't rely on the 3-point shot. He's had some big games over his career.

"We needed it here. It was good to see a senior at home, step up and play as well as he did."

Darrius Morrow had 19 points, which provided a needed inside scoring presence for the Pirates.

"People have really been hawking around him," Lebo said. "People ask, 'Why don't you get him the ball?' Well, there's five guys around him sometimes. It's hard to get the ball in there. They front him, put a guy behind him and that's why we've got to get some other guys to be able to step up and make some plays offensively for us."

Jontae Sherrod scored 21 points for the Pirates on Wednesday night.

"Jontae's been consistent," Lebo said. "Jamar has got to be able to knock down some shots to create some openings for Darrius. I think Darrius got the ball in there a little bit more because of Jamar's ability to shoot the basketball. When Jontae's out there on the court at the same time, they've got to guard him tight. If we can get Corvonn (Gaines) and Erin (Straughn) to be able to make some shots — they've really struggled scoring the basketball in conference play. They don't have to be big scorers but they have to be able to at least have people defend them.

"A lot of people have not been guarding those two guys. They've really been sloughing off, daring those guys to shoot."

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ECU broke its previous mark of five C-USA wins in a season.

"We hadn't beaten this year someone in the upper echelon in the league," Lebo said. "We did that against UTEP (20-8, 8-5). They were a team that went to the NCAA Tournament last year. They've got a lot of guys back. They've got five seniors. They were coming off a loss. They had not lost two in a row all season long. We knew with seniors, coming off a loss where they didn't play particularly well, we were going to get a good shot from them. They weren't going to lay down and die.

"With a loss, they would get even more pumped up. I was really proud of the group. It was an odd game. It was a different game. ... The way it was it really got their players' juices flowing and sometimes they're hard to win. When they had that stuff go against them early in the second half, they got going a little bit offensively. We made some key plays coming down the stretch, especially on the offensive end to kind of keep them at bay."

ECU (14-13, 6-7 C-USA) will try to take some momentum into an 8 p.m. game Saturday at Rice (12-15, 4-9). The Owls are led by 6-foot-7 Arsalan Kazemi, a native of Iran who averages 15.3 points and 11.4 rebounds.

"They've beaten LSU in the SEC," Lebo said of Rice. "They played Texas, who is pretty daggone good the last time I checked, I think a three-point game. They've beaten Memphis by 15 at home. They've got a terrific player inside. Ben Braun is an excellent coach. They're at home and, as most people are, they're much better at home.

"Hopefully, we can build upon the UTEP game and go down there and shoot the ball with some confidence against them.

"We talked about getting to six (wins) in Conference USA. That's the most in Conference USA but let's not stop at six. Let's go ahead and try to get No. 7 on Saturday."

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02/25/2011 03:16 AM


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