CHAPEL HILL — East Carolina senior point
guard Miguel Paul and his teammates were disappointed after a 93-87 loss
to nationally-ranked North Carolina at the Smith Center on Saturday.
"It's good that we showed that we can play
with them but I know me and Akeem (Richmond) and the other guards and
the bigs, we were talking about coming here and winning the game," said
the Missouri transfer after ECU fell to 6-2.
A victory appeared out of the question
with the Pirates trailing 42-26 at the half, but ECU created some
fleeting moments of suspense by scoring 61 points in the second 20
minutes. The Pirates whacked an 18-point deficit with just over seven
minutes left down to four points twice in the final minute before the
Tar Heels were able to breathe a sigh of relief at the final buzzer.
"The first half, shots weren't
falling," Richmond said. "I missed a few, Paris (Roberts-Campbell)
missed a few, all of us missed a few that we normally make."
ECU made just 10 of 33 field goal
attempts (30.3 percent) in the first half but knocked down 18 of 34 for
52.9 percent after the locker room break.
The 3-point accuracy improved as well.
The Pirates dropped just four of 14 from behind the arc (28.6 percent)
in the first half before going six of 13 (46.2 percent) in the second
half. Richmond led the surge, connecting on five of eight from long
distance after intermission.
The free throw situation dramatically
improved as well. After going two for four before the break, ECU was 19
for 23 at the line afterwards.
Did former North Carolina marksman and
Pirates coach Jeff Lebo, who received a standing ovation when the teams
were introduced, conduct a crash shooting course at halftime?
No. It was more like the Pirates merely
found their comfort zone.
"The second half we relaxed and shots
started falling," said Richmond, a former ball boy at the Dean Dome, who
totaled a team-high 17 points. "Things started changing."
As ECU came barreling down the stretch,
it was a tough call for the crowd announced at 19,147 to decide whether
to beat the postgame traffic or see how the building drama would
The Pirates trailed 88-77 when Kinston
product Reggie Bullock of UNC fouled out with 49 seconds to go. Two free
throws by Paul and a pair of threes by Richmond sliced the lead to four
points with 27 seconds left. Richmond was called for a foul that
produced two free throws by Dexter Strickland for a 6-point margin.
Marshall Guilmette scored on Paul's
eighth assist to get ECU within four points again with 16 seconds
remaining. Leslie McDonald got a feed from J.P. Tokoto for the Heels'
"We opened the floor up more for me to
penetrate," said Paul, who had 13 of his 15 points and six assists in
the second half. "I'm not being cocky. It's hard for anybody to stay in
front of me with one screen. That gives everybody a lot of open looks. I
think we just calmed down a little more in the second half."
Each team had five players in
double-figure scoring. Kemp had 15 points and 14 rebounds. Robert
Sampson had 10 points and eight rebounds for ECU. Guilmette had 10
points and three assists.
"I thought that we battled hard," Lebo
said." ... We shot the ball very well in the second half to make things
interesting. ... Coach (Roy) Williams has a young team and I've got a
little bit more experienced guys. I like experienced guys."
The second half generated optimism for
the gold-clad Pirates, who had to manage without Erin Straughn, a
versatile 6-foot-6 senior who said he may be four weeks from returning
from a leg injury.
"I'd have to say that any team that
scores 61 points in the second half against North Carolina at North
Carolina has a lot of potential," said ECU athletic director Terry
Holland, who guided Virginia to a pair of Final Fours. "I think that's
where we are right now. We've got that potential and we know what we can
do. It's just a matter of being able to keep working and doing it for
longer periods of time."
The Pirates host Gardner-Webb on
Tuesday at 7 p.m., another step in preparation for the Conference USA
opener at Memphis on Jan. 9.
For the last 20 minutes on Saturday,
ECU did not look like a program that should have been blocked for an
all-sports membership in the Big East, based on its competitive level in
"You've got to have more than one game
to make a statement," Holland said. "Obviously, our RPI is as high as
many of the schools in the league. It's not really a matter of that. If
you are going to add someone, you always want it to be someone who
"It's not a matter of 'Are we
comparable to those teams?' It's a matter of 'Are we better?' We're
probably not yet — but we're going to get better."
In terms of key qualities like size and
quickness, ECU didn't appear to be outmanned. UNC (8-2) was unable to
pull away as it did against Mississippi State and Alabama-Birmingham.
ECU's stretch run got the attention of an ESPNU audience and also stoked
confidence within Lebo's program.
"We can play with anybody in America,"
Paul said. "We've just got to stop having slow starts."
Lebo, who didn't hurt his chances of
returning to his alma mater when Williams retires, looks at future
scenarios with caution.
"It'll hopefully give us some
confidence," he said of the manner in which Saturday's matchup unfolded.
"Basketball is a funny game. You can look one way one day and turn
around and play two days later and not look like the same team. So
hopefully we can build with this. This was obviously big for our
university and big for our program."
North Carolina 93, East Carolina
Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012
Facility: Smith Center
Records: ECU 6-2; NC 8-2
SCORE BY PERIODS