View from the East
Friday, December 4, 2015

By Al Myatt

Al Myatt

Aztecs a low point – and starting point

Next: ECU vs. USC-Upstate

Friday, 7 pm | TV: ESPN3



Stunningly, a new era at hand

As head football coach at his alma mater, Ruffin McNeill avoided treating the position as though he were Chief Executive Officer of a business. McNeill favored a family model. He was daddy. The players were his sons. The assistant coaches and coordinators were uncles.

McNeill's abrupt dismissal Friday after an injury-plagued 5-7 season was a reminder that big-time college athletics is indeed a business. ... More from Al Myatt...

Pictured: Ruffin McNeill acknowledges the crowd before what would turn out to be the East Carolina alum's final homecoming game as head coach of the Pirates, a 30-17 win over Tulsa. (W.A. Myatt photo)



Pirates start fast, finish strong

GREENVILLE — East Carolina never trailed in a 74-48 nonconference win over Florida Atlantic on Tuesday night. A 3-pointer by Caleb White put the Pirates ahead 5-2 with 16 minutes left in the first half and ECU (4-3) led the rest of the way. ... More...

Next: ECU vs. USC-Upstate | Friday, 7 pm | TV: ESPN3



Ruff & Co. have more bricks to lay

East Carolina’s football season came to a disappointing end on Saturday as the Pirates fell to Cincinnati 19-16. It wasn’t the ending this team, especially the seniors, was looking for. ... More from Brian Bailey...

Audio: The Brian Bailey Show

The Brian Bailey Show airs on Pirate Radio 1250 on Mondays at 6:30 p.m. Brian's guests this week were ECU basketball coach Jeff Lebo (left) and Rose football coach David Wojtecki (right): Replay show...



ECU getting 'total package' in Dukes

Mooresville coach Hal Capps didn't hesitate when asked recently if his star defensive lineman Jamil Dukes compared to any players he'd previously coached or competed against. ... More from Sammy Batten...

Thumbnails: ECU's recruiting class of 2016...


Monday Infographic: 'That's Reality'



In the wake of its last-second, season-ending loss to Cincinnati, injuries and close losses sum up East Carolina's 2015 football campaign. Five of the Pirates' seven losses were by 10 points or less. ... Details and data from Greg Vacek...

>>>  AAC SCOREBOARD  >>> ..... ..... Thursday: USF 44, UCF 3 (ESPN) ..... ..... Friday: Houston 52, Navy 31 (ABC) ..... Tulsa 45, Tulane 34 (ESPNU) ..... ..... Saturday: Memphis 63, SMU 0 (ESPNN) ..... Cincinnati 19, ECU 16 ..... Temple 27, UConn 3 (ESPNU) ..... .....


Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium | Att: 40,743 | TV: CBSSN

UC 19, ECU 16 | Photos... | Audio: Ruff Postgame...

Another Senior Day heartbreaker

GREENVILLE — Cincinnati provided some unwanted deja vu as East Carolina was trying to nail down a bowl bid and send its seniors out in style Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. For the second straight year, a play as time expired was the difference maker in a loss on Senior Day for the Pirates. Andrew Gantz was once again a villain for ECU. ... More from Al Myatt...

View Al Myatt's game day photo gallery...

Audio: Ruff post-game

ECU coach Ruffin McNeill spoke with reporters after the Pirates' loss to Cincinnati (recorded by Al Myatt; file photo): Select audio clip...
>>>  AAC SCOREBOARD  >>> ..... ..... Thursday: USF 44, UCF 3 (ESPN) ..... ..... Friday: Houston 52, Navy 31 (ABC) ..... Tulsa 45, Tulane 34 (ESPNU) ..... ..... Saturday: Memphis 63, SMU 0 (ESPNN) ..... Cincinnati 19, ECU 16 ..... Temple 27, UConn 3 (ESPNU) ..... .....

By Al Myatt
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East Carolina caught San Diego State at the wrong time – following a loss – but since a 79-54 setback to the Aztecs on Nov. 23, the Pirates have shown steady improvement.

B.J. Tyson, who led ECU in scoring with a 12.5 average as a freshman, has broken out of a brief sophomore slump to tally 22 points in a 93-73 win over Stetson in Las Vegas and 15 points as the Pirates were back home Tuesday night for a 74-48 win over Florida Atlantic.

That's more like what is expected of the left-hander who was a unanimous selection to the American Athletic Conference's All-Rookie team last season.

It was the first factor cited by Pirates coach Jeff Lebo as his team takes a two-game winning streak into a 7 p.m. home game tonight with South Carolina-Upstate.

"One, we're getting better play from B.J.," Lebo said. "He's shooting the ball much better. Obviously, we need him to be able to score the ball for us. We've shot the ball the last two games at a high rate. That's certainly been a big difference maker for us. Defensively, we've really been pretty solid. The San Diego State game, they're not a great shooting team by any stretch and they made their first six threes in that one.

"That kind of put us back on our heels a little bit. We kind of got them when they were very angry coming off a loss."

San Diego State won for the 22nd time following a loss in subduing the Pirates.

Effective defense

The Pirates followed the defeat at SDSU with a 54-46 loss to Arkansas-Little Rock on Thanksgiving day, although ECU led 23-15 at the half.

"Our defense has been solid," Lebo said. "We've rebounded the ball pretty well in those games. Offensively, we've gotten some other guys to step up and make some plays for us, to make some shots. That's the one area where I really worry about offensively, particularly in a half-court situation, how do we score?"

Value of western journey

ECU began to get some answers during the course of its western trip. The journey began with the first loss of the season after a 2-0 start at home as California-Berkley held off a late run by the Pirates for a 70-62 win on Nov. 20.

"We knew it was going to be really difficult to go out there," Lebo said. "Cal was 14th in the country. We played really good against them. It was a one-possession game on the road with two minutes to go. San Diego State has been to five consecutive NCAA Tournaments and has been to two Sweet 16s in those five years. That's a really difficult place to play. They've got a terrific team so we really challenged ourselves with true road games, traveling over multiple time zones to play.

"Then we run into a Little Rock team which is a lot better than people give them credit. I think they're No. 2 in the RPI right now and No. 1 in the country in defense. We could have had that game. We turned the ball over. That was really the difference in that game. Defensively, we were good enough but, offensively, we just turned it over. We played much better against Stetson.

"That's a tough thing for young players. It's a tough thing for any of the players when you go out and spend 11 days on the road and you have four games in those 11 days away from home. I thought we learned a lot about our team. Playing against that kind of caliber I think you learn a little bit about yourself and your team.

"We got a chance to do some cool things away from basketball that was certainly a part of the trip also. We took the kids to Alcatraz when we were in San Francisco. We took the kids to the San Diego Zoo. These are places maybe they'll never get a chance to go to again so it was a good bonding trip I think, too, for everybody."

The right coaching for B.J.

Tyson didn't get into double-figure scoring in the two games in California but he got plenty of encouragement.

"I think when people go through these things you've just got to try to keep them confident," Lebo said. "You've got to keep them working. You've got to keep them to understand that, hey, they're going to come out of it at some point. We don't know when. We hope earlier. You've just got to keep working. You've got to keep being positive. You've got to keep shooting the ball when you're open. You can't let it get into your head where it really affects you for longer periods of time.

"We try to be consistent with that with B.J. and anybody else. We treat it the same way if they're going through some sort of shooting slump. Hopefully, with hard work, with the right attitude, it'll come eventually. You just never know when you're going to snap out of it."

Tyson is actually a more complete player this season with the ability to utilize his right hand more effectively.

"He's spent a lot of time working on his right hand," Lebo said. "That's one thing that he needed to work on in the offseason is being able to take it off his right side. A lot of people were sitting on his left side because of his ability to really push it with his left hand. Being able to counter that with some right-hand drives with right-hand finishes. We've got a lot of left-handed guys on our team so it's kind of been an emphasis of being able to finish with the correct hand around the basket.

"The last two games we've been fortunate they haven't had great shot blocking. The other games that we played, San Diego State, had size and athleticism at the rim area. It's a different look when you're going in there to the rim when you have that size and athleticism in the painted area."

ECU is unique in that it has more scoring from left-handed players than right-handers, which generally comprise the vast majority.

"I don't think that's a big deal," Lebo said. "It's just kind of an odd year for us. We have a ton of them. B.J., Grant (Bryant), Caleb (White), Kentrell Barkley are all left-handed guys. I don't think it gives you any kind of advantage, right or left. It's just one thing you've got to spend a little more time working on those right-hand finishes."

Eddie Payne returns

Lebo will be involved in his 542nd game as a head coach tonight with previous stints at Tennessee Tech, Chattanooga and Auburn. He didn't recall coaching previously against Eddie Payne, who is in his 14th season with USC-Upstate.

Payne spent four seasons at ECU during his 30-year head coaching career. He guided the Pirates to the NCAA Tournament in 1993. ECU was 18-11 under his leadership in 1994-95 before he was hired away by Oregon State.

"Eddie's a lifer in this business," Lebo said. "He's done a great job at Upstate. He did a great job here. ... He's been a friend of mine for a long time, a lifer in this business. I've got a lot of respect for Eddie and the job he's done at Upstate. You look back at the last couple of years with his team. They've had tremendous years and they're used to winning. They're a little young this year but they're a team that's getting better. That's one thing, you look at his teams, those guys will get better. He lost some pretty good players. The last couple of years, they've won a ton of games. He's done a great job with that program in transitioning it to where it is right now."

The Spartans fell to 1-8 this season with a 76-56 loss to Clemson in Greenville, SC, on Wednesday night. Upstate was 24-12 last season, reaching the second round of the Tournament.

Unique zone

ECU spent some practice time Thursday trying to get familiar with a unique zone defense the Spartans are expected to present.

"They are a very different type of zone defense," Lebo said. "How we attack that, what kind of shots we get, if we can move it intelligently we'll get some good ones. Hopefully, we can make a few. It's hard to simulate that type of zone. It's very different than the zone that we play. That's the big thing.

Upstate is hitting 34.2 percent behind the arc.

"We've got to keep them from getting tee-up 3-point shots against our zone because they're certainly capable from the outside to knock them down," Lebo said. "That's the big worries coming into this game is really their match-up zone and It's hard to simulate. Can we attack it in the right way to get the right shots because it is very different. It's a matchup but it's very different in how they defend cutters and ball screens so it's not like our zone. The slides are very different. It's hard to simulate. You can't really put it in with your scout team because it's so different. We'll have to try to figure it out here as best we can. We had to have a day off (Wednesday). We'll only have one day to get ready for them."

Grant Bryant steps up

With Michel Nzege sitting out with an infirmity against FAU on Tuesday, sophomore Grant Bryant got 20 minutes of playing time and produced 12 points on six of eight field goal shooting.

"That was nice to see," Lebo said. "Good for him. He played very well and has gotten better. I think he's a guy who understands what he's good at. He's starting to stay away from things that he's not. He can drive the ball. He's got an ability to finish. He can get it to the basket with some quickness. He finished around the rim for us.

"He's gotten much stronger from his freshman year. More aggressive. I think he's understanding the physicality of the game. It was nice to see him because he's worked hard. He's kept a good attitude. When he got an opportunity to get in there, I think he seized the moment. I've been gaining more confidence in Grant through his practices, through his development and that was nice to see a kid get rewarded for his hard work, for his good attitude and for his resiliency to stay involved when he hadn't been playing at all really for his career."

Good numbers from point guards

Prince Williams, Lance Tejada and Charles Foster got significant minutes Tuesday night.

The trio combined for 18 points, eight assists and just three turnovers.

Those are good numbers but Lebo thinks they can improve.

"I still think that we can get a lot better there," said the Pirates coach. "My big thing is the decision making from that position. Making the right plays, finding the right guys, whether to shoot it, whether to have offense for yourself or getting other people involved. We've got to get better there I think. We've got to get more consistent there. That's an area where we've got to get a little bit better. We've had our moments there. We've got to get better consistently at me knowing what I'm going to get there from a decision-making standpoint."

Rule changes settling in

The Pirates appear to have adjusted well to a shorter shot clock and tighter officiating this season.

"Yeah, I think so," Lebo said. "There are still some things you're trying to get used to but I think after a while the guys are getting used to the shot clock. The timeouts being quicker when they put it in play, we've still got to get better at that.

"It's still odd for me not being able to call timeout when we have the ball. I've seen some screw-ups in some other games with that. I don't really like that at all. That's something I think that's really hard for the coaches to kind of get their arms around and our players. ... We've played a lot of zone and I think we've done a good job for the most part of keeping people off the foul line. You see a lot of foul shots. You've seen a lot of fouls in the early games but that's not been a big factor for us because that's how we play.

"We have some long possessions defensively with the zone. The one thing that we do have with the zone is we've got to defend longer. It takes longer to get a shot so we have gotten a few shot clock violations. That's been a positive thing."

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