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View from the 'ville
Thursday, December 2, 2010

By Al Myatt


Pirates show progress in topping 49ers

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

GREENVILLE — For a program that hasn't had a winning season since 1996-97, the script looked familiar. East Carolina had plenty of opportunities to lose to Charlotte on Wednesday night.

The 49ers were hotter than a burning building in jumping out to a 12-2 lead and the visitors appeared to be in control when they were up 42-30 early in the second half. When Gokhan Sirin, a 6-foot-8 Turkish import, hit a 3-pointer with 14 seconds left for a 61-59 Charlotte lead, the handwriting on the wall must have looked familiar for long-suffering Pirate basketball fans among the crowd of 3,904 in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.

But this one had a distinct plot twist — a clutch play in the closing seconds that produced a 62-61 ECU win over their former Conference USA rivals. The refreshing outcome also provided a hint of the positive possibilities that could lie ahead.

Post player Darrius Morrow was the hero. He powered a shot up from the right low block on a feed by Erin Straughn with 3.8 seconds left as 6-foot-11 Phil Jones was called for a foul. Morrow said he didn't want to go to overtime and put all his focus on the ensuing free throw which provided the margin of victory. ECU double-teamed 49er guard Jamar Briscoe after he took Charlotte's last inbounds pass. He threw to Jones, who missed a lengthy three as time expired.

Morrow had 11 points, eight rebounds and a smile. Too often, sullen faces and slumped shoulders have been the standard postgame body language for ECU basketball players.

The outcome avenged a 74-63 loss to the 49ers in the Charleston Classic. Shamari Spears, a 6-6 senior who led Charlotte's scoring with a 17.0 average, has been suspended since that first meeting when he scored 15 points.

Jontae Sherrod snapped the Pirates out of their early funk and finished with a game-high 19 points. He made 5 of 9 from behind the arc.

ECU is 6-2 and despite the tendency to typecast that indoor activity that takes place between football and spring football, there are signs of hope that hoops could continue to move forward. Point guard Brock Young looked like his old self after struggling at the outset of his senior season with a torn meniscus.

Young talked about the domino process that eventually downed the 49ers.

"I started attacking in transition because their guards were tired," said Young, who had 14 points, six assists, five rebounds and no turnovers. "When I started attacking, it opened it up from the outside. Jontae started hitting shots. When he started hitting shots, it opened up the middle. I had opportunities to drive in and kick the ball. We were just flowing as an offense."

The Pirates weren't doing too badly on the defensive end either. They amped up their man-to-man to chop into Charlotte's lead with a dominating 17-2 second half run. After hitting 46.2 percent of their field goal attempts in the first half, the 49ers managed just 32.3 percent in the second half. ECU was stepping out on screens, playing physical inside and closing out on shooters as Charlotte was forced into long and mostly-unsuccessful possessions.

ECU's offense improved from its 33.3 percent field goal shooting effort in the first half to make 51.9 percent in the second half. Correspondingly, ECU outscored the 49ers 37-26 in the second half.

Maybe it was just a coincidence that ECU football coach Ruffin McNeill, flanked by Chancellor Steve Ballard and athletic director Terry Holland, formally accepted a bid to the Military Bowl in Washington, D.C. at halftime.

The Pirate fans chanted, "We've got football," for the benefit of the green section of 49ers fans behind the Charlotte bench. The 49ers don't have football yet.

After ECU had rallied to close the deficit in the overall series to 13-6, the Minges Maniacs had an adaptation. "We've got basketball," was their closing statement.

There seems to be a growing sense around the overall athletic program of the potential value of a winning hoops program. It's no secret that successful basketball would enhance ECU's appeal to a conference with an automatic qualifier in the Bowl Championship Series. Hiring Jeff Lebo to coach basketball was a positive step and the commitment to raise funds for a $15 million practice facility was another. Over half of that amount has been pledged.

Lebo's first order of business in his interview room remarks was to thank the fans for upping the energy level in Williams Arena in the second half, allowing the Pirate players to accentuate the home court advantage.

Lebo said the string of losing seasons has become a factor to the extent that it hurts to talk about it. But the coaches and players have talked about it.

And Wednesday night, they did something about it. The program's confidence meter took a perceptible upward turn as the 49ers were the ones who were left to deal with a disappointing defeat. Many a happy team bus has rolled away from Minges over the years. Too many.

ECU has had its moments at home as wins over Louisville, Marquette and N.C. State attest but more consistency and more competitiveness in Conference USA are the goals. The Pirates are a work in progress and they were scheduled to return to work shortly after experiencing the exhilaration of edging Charlotte.

"It's nice for them to enjoy," Lebo said of his players' response to a close win over a program which has a degree of tradition. "But the enjoyment will be short. We've got practice at 7 in the morning."



Date: Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010
Place: Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum, Greenville, NC
Attendance: 3,904
Records: ECU 6-2; UNCC 3-5.

Charlotte              35  26 -   61
East Carolina          25  37 -   62

 # PLAYER                    FG   3PT    FT  R PTS MIN
21 An'Juan Wilderness.. f   2-5   0-2   3-5  4   7  31
35 Chris Braswell...... f   2-8   0-0   0-0  5   4  25
00 Javarris Barnett.... g   3-7   1-3   0-1  6   7  28
01 Derrio Green........ g   3-8   3-8   2-2  6  11  33
10 Jamar Briscoe....... g  3-13   1-5   0-0  3   7  32
03 Gokhan Sirin..........   3-6   3-4   0-0  1   9  21
05 Phil Jones............   5-8   0-1   4-5 10  14  28
20 Colby Lewis...........   1-2   0-1   0-0  0   2   2
TEAM.....................                    3
TOTALS................... 22-57  8-24  9-13 38  61 200
PERCENT..................  38.6  33.3  69.2

 # PLAYER                    FG   3PT    FT  R PTS MIN
01 Darrius Morrow...... f  4-12   0-0   3-4  8  11  33
21 Jamar Abrams........ f   3-6   2-5   0-0  3   8  18
10 Brock Young......... g  6-12   2-5   0-1  5  14  33
11 Corvonn Gaines...... g   3-6   0-2   0-0  2   6  31
23 Erin Straughn....... g   0-2   0-2   1-2  6   1  22
12 Robert Sampson........   0-1   0-0   0-0  1   0   4
24 Jontae Sherrod........  7-12   5-9   0-0  5  19  31
30 Wakefield Ellison.....   0-2   0-1   0-0  0   0   4
33 Chad Wynn.............   1-2   0-0   1-2  2   3  12
35 Darius Morales........   0-2   0-0   0-0  1   0  12
TEAM.....................                    3
TOTALS................... 24-57  9-24   5-9 36  62 200
PERCENT..................  42.1  37.5  55.6

Officials: Duke Edsall, Mark Schnur, Clyde Owens
Technical Fouls: None

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