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Inside Game Day
Saturday, January 14, 2012

By Al Myatt

Early troubles still vex Pirates

By Al Myatt
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GREENVILLE — Usain Bolt wouldn't be a world champion sprinter if he gave opponents a 20-yard head start. Coach Ruffin McNeill will never concede a foe a touchdown to begin an East Carolina football game. Mitt Romney won't spot his Republican challengers any votes in the upcoming South Carolina primary.

Playing from behind makes successful results more difficult and the East Carolina basketball team has become a prime example. An unproductive pattern of slow starts has engulfed the Pirates in three Conference USA losses.

The trend started at Southern Miss in the league opener when ECU fell behind by double digits in the first five minutes of the game.

It continued last week when Central Florida had the Pirates down 14 points midway through the first half.

Tulsa continued ECU's early difficulties by jumping out to a 22-4 lead on Saturday in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.

In the first nine minutes of three league games, the Pirates have been outscored 60-27. That's a lot to overcome and a big reason the Pirates head for a Texas swing this week (at UTEP on Wednesday, at Houston on Saturday) still searching for a C-USA win.

ECU has managed to be competitive at the end of two of its C-USA games, losing 78-76 at Southern Miss and 70-67 on Saturday to Tulsa as a tying 3-pointer by Maurice Kemp missed in the closing seconds. A rally against UCF seemingly was short-circuited by an untimely technical foul which changed momentum after the Pirates had cut a 22-point Knights lead to 11 during a 3-minute span in the second half.

"We've been digging out of holes from the beginning," said ECU coach Jeff Lebo. "I wish I knew (the answer)."

The Pirates have outscored their opponents 179-169 in the final 31 minutes of their three league games but the rallies thus far have been classic cases of too little, too late.

There haven't been consistent problems in the three games. Rebounding was a big factor in the first two but poor shooting was the culprit for struggles against Tulsa.

"We had a chance to win against a really good team, shooting 38 percent," Lebo said. "We've got to be 45, 46 (percent)."

The Pirates were 7 of 26 from behind the arc for 26.9 percent. The only shooting area where ECU did well was at the free throw line as the Pirates dropped 14 of 17 for 82.4 percent.

ECU is not the same team that produced a breakout 18-16 record among its many accomplishments in Lebo's first season as Pirates coach in 2010-11. First-year players in the program got a total of 97 minutes against Tulsa and that was with Miguel Paul, a transfer at point guard, limited to 26 minutes by foul problems.

"When you've got a lot of young guys you find different ways," Lebo said. "Something else rears its ugly head. Whether it's rebounding one game or turnovers one game."

ECU had just eight turnovers and rebounded evenly (34-34) with the taller visitors on Saturday.

"We've got to put it all together and find a way," Lebo said.

The Pirate coach saw good things in terms of outscoring Tulsa 34-30 in the second half.

"Defensively, the second half, we did a lot of nice things," he said. "We scratched and clawed."

Paul and Robert Sampson both fouled out but not before ECU had closed within 59-56 with seven minutes left. Paul missed a tying 3-point attempt with 6:50 to go.

"We have a chance to make the big one," said the ECU coach. "We missed a wide open one to tie the game. Miguel Paul, wide open from the top — the best look in the house. They went under the ball screen. Darrius (Morrow) wiped the guy out and we can't make it."

Shot selection was not the issue in the slow start.

"Tonight, we took good shots," Lebo said. "We just didn't make any and they made everything to start. I thought we settled down. We had those same looks in the second half. We kind of started to make a few and they didn't make as many. We got back into the game."

The Pirates came back to have a shot at going to overtime, inbounding from beneath their basket with 4.9 seconds left and facing a 70-67 deficit.

"They were very physical with us," Lebo said. "We were trying to run a screen for Paris (Roberts-Campbell) in the corner, then run Kemp off to the corner through an elevator door but they got right through the screen. Very physical. I don't think they were afraid to foul at that point so they could be really physical. If they foul on the floor, it still would have been a two (shot foul)."

Kemp's closing try from the left corner under extreme pressure had a good trajectory under the circumstances but hit the far side of the rim and bounced away. Erin Straughn gained possession underneath before the buzzer.

Jordan Clarkson, a 6-foot-4 guard, continually spotted up for threes or pulled up on drives to total 23 points for Tulsa (9-9, 2-2). He was 5-for-5 behind the arc, 7-for-9 from the field and 4-for-6 at the line. He also had six assists. Kodi Maduka, 6-11, also presented match up problems. He had 17 points and 10 rebounds.

"We've got to be able to make some shots because we're not going to overpower anybody," Lebo said. "We're very small."

The Pirates (9-7 overall) became even smaller with the announcement Saturday that Austin Steed (6-8, 245), a transfer from South Carolina, had become academically ineligible in graduate school.

Steed was averaging 4.1 points and 4.3 rebounds in an average of 13.9 minutes per game at ECU.

"Without Steed, we can't simulate anything in practice," Lebo said. "We're going to have to make some shots from the perimeter to win a game. ... We've got three big guys who can play. If you're going to define Kemp and Sampson as big guys, then that's what we've got."

Morrow, ECU's lone legitimate post player, had 18 points and five rebounds against Tulsa. Kemp had 10 points and 10 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season. Paul made just two of 11 field goal attempts but sank seven of nine at the line for 13 points. His assist-to-turnover ratio was four-to-one.



Date: Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012
Place: Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum, Greenville, NC
Attendance: 4,584
Records: ECU 9-7 (0-3 Conference USA); Tulsa 9-9 (2-2)

Tulsa               40  30  -  70
East Carolina       33  34  -  67

 # PLAYER                    FG   3PT    FT  R PTS MIN
.........................    ..   ...    ..  . ... ...
32 Maduka, Kodi........ f   5-9   0-0  7-10 10  17  23
35 Magley, D.J......... f   3-6   0-0   1-2  6   7  24
02 McClellan, Eric..... g   1-6   1-1   0-0  0   3  23
03 Clarkson, Jordan.... g   7-9   5-5   4-6  3  23  35
34 Haralson, Scottie... g   3-7   2-5   2-3  2  10  33
01 Smith, Rashad.........   1-1   0-0   0-0  1   2   5
05 Peete, Tim............   0-4   0-1   0-0  3   0  23
11 Idlet, Steven.........   2-6   0-0   4-4  5   8  22
15 Wishon, David.........   0-0   0-0   0-0  0   0   2
33 Richard, Joe..........   0-0   0-0   0-0  2   0  10
TEAM.....................                    2
TOTALS................... 22-48  8-12 18-25 34  70 200
PERCENT..................  45.8  66.7  72.0

 # PLAYER                    FG   3PT    FT  R PTS MIN
.........................    ..   ...    ..  . ... ...
01 Morrow, Darrius..... f  7-11   0-0   4-4  5  18  37
02 Kemp, Maurice....... f   3-9   2-5   2-2 10  10  33
00 Paul, Miguel........ g  2-11   2-7   7-9  1  13  26
20 Bowden, Shamarr..... g   2-8   0-3   0-0  1   4  21
23 Straughn, Erin...... g   3-7   1-3   0-0  9   7  25
11 Gaines, Corvonn.......   2-4   1-3   1-2  1   6  20
12 Sampson, Robert.......   2-4   0-2   0-0  3   4  18
22 CAMPBELL, Paris.......   2-6   1-3   0-0  1   5  17
35 Morales, Darius.......   0-0   0-0   0-0  0   0   3
TEAM.....................                    3
TOTALS................... 23-60  7-26 14-17 34  67 200
PERCENT..................  38.3  26.9  82.4

Fouled out: Miguel Paul, Robert Sampson
Technical Fouls: None
Officials: Duke Edsall, Kevin Mathis, Bret Smithh

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01/15/2012 02:56:54 AM


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