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Don't miss Al Myatt's profile of ECU Chancellor Steven Ballard in the current Bonesville Magazine.

View from the East
Monday, February 14, 2005

By Al Myatt

Opportunities dwindling to rescue season


Would have. Could have. Should have.

No doubt those phrases were uttered with a high degree of regularity as East Carolina fans left Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum on Saturday night after seeing Marquette erase a 7-point deficit in the last two minutes of regulation play to top the Pirates 71-69 in overtime.

ECU managed to stay within striking distance despite shooting just 25.9 percent in the first half. It was a disappointing start considering ECU had a week to rest and prepare for the Golden Eagles. Down 29-22 at the break, the Pirates trailed by as many as 12 points early in the second half.


Listen to postgame comments of Bill Herrion, Mike Cook, Corey Rouse, Tom Crean and Travis Diener after Marquette's overtime win over ECU:

Select Audio Clips


"We were very confused," said ECU coach Bill Herrion. "We just did not attack their zone well in the first half."

An 18-5 ECU run that started with 7:24 left in regulation seemingly put the Pirates in control with a 63-56 lead with 2:52 to go.

"Like we typically do in this building, because there is so much energy and the crowd gets behind you, we started making a run," said the ECU coach. "We started guarding better and obviously we put the ball in the bucket."

The Pirates heated up to hit 68.2 percent (15 for 22) of their field goal attempts in the second half.

While ECU began finding the range against Golden Eagles defenders, there were difficulties hitting unguarded 15 footers — specifically free throws. The Pirates were 9 of 18 at the line in the second half — 50 percent — and that wasn't good enough to put Marquette away.

Corey Rouse in particular struggled at the stripe, going one for four on foul shots in the final minute of regulation when any one of his misses might have been enough to keep a Conference USA win from slipping out of ECU's grasp.

That's not to say Rouse choked, even though he barely drew iron on a couple of tries, going 4 of 12 at the line for the game. The junior forward is just an extremely poor free throw shooter, hitting just 46.6 percent for his college career. ECU's lack of depth doesn't allow C-USA's top rebounder to sit when foul shots become crucial.

"Foul shots killed us," lamented sophomore guard Mike Cook, who led ECU with 21 points.

"Gotta make free throws," Herrion said. "Free throw line accuracy really hurt us. We had a few opportunities to really put it away from the free throw line and we didn't."

ECU missed its chances to decide the outcome. Marquette, which had lost on its two previous trips to Greenville, did not.

Ultimately the Pirates had no answer for Marquette senior guard Travis Diener, who assisted on Steve Novak's 3-pointer with 3.6 seconds left in regulation that sent the game to overtime. Diener later squared up from 18 feet on the right wing to knock down the game winner with 2.6 seconds left in the extra period.

Diener had 31 points in 44 minutes although he supposedly is not full strength from an ankle injury that sidelined him earlier this season.

One might wonder why ECU didn't try the box and one on Diener that worked effectively earlier this season on Brendan Plavich and Charlotte.

"When you let a kid like Diener hang around crazy things are going to happen," Herrion said. "He's a great player. He's done it his whole career. He hasn't done it just against East Carolina. He's done it against a lot of people.

"When they shoot the three as well as they do, Novak and Diener — they're just such a dangerous basketball team."

Marquette coach Tom Crean credited ECU's effort.

"They play very hard," said the Golden Eagles coach. "From one to 10 if 10 is playing hardest, they're at nine or 10 all the time and that's very hard to do."

Despite ECU's effort, a lack of execution down the stretch was costly. In the big picture the Pirates missed a chance to enhance their position for a berth in the C-USA Tournament in Memphis. The top 12 teams in the standings of the league's 14 basketball-playing members get invited to the league's preliminary to the NCAA's Big Dance.

South Florida and Tulane each fell to 3-8 in C-USA with losses prior to ECU's game on Saturday. The Pirates were in prime position to improve to 3-8 themselves but instead fell to 2-9 to remain in 13th place in the standings.

The Pirates have five league games left. ECU visits UAB on Wednesday and has a huge matchup at South Florida at 7 p.m. on Saturday. The Pirates return home to host Southern Miss (1-10) at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 23 and Houston at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 26.

Then ECU has a week off before closing the regular season at Tulane at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 5. Every game is humongous for the Pirates' league tournament aspirations even as Herrion continually reminds us that, "the margin of error in this league is just so small."

One wonders how small the margin of error may be in terms of job security for ECU's program leader, whose team is 7-16 and virtually assured of a sixth straight losing season under his guidance. His contract runs through 2008.

Fortunately, fan support has not diminished. An attendance figure of 6,160 was announced for the Marquette game, one of the better crowds of the season. Every space in the lower parking lot off Charles Street was filled.

Herrion talks about his team's youth and inexperience but effective coaches anticipate graduation losses and recruit to fill them ahead of time. Academics, injuries and transfers have interfered with personnel plans, leaving Herrion looking at an inordinate number of true freshmen in his current rotation.

The Pirates put themselves in position to improve their chances for the league tournament and failed on Saturday night. That didn't help the questions swirling within the fan base about Herrion's job security. Athletic director Terry Holland and chancellor Steve Ballard are the only ones who know the answer there — and they aren't talking.

If ECU doesn't make the league tournament this season that will be a sign of slippage from last year's performance. Also to be considered is the change in membership in C-USA next season which should allow the Pirates to be more competitive in hoops. Certainly, the Pirates should be more experienced next season, barring unforeseen transfers or injuries. Forward David Bell from LaSalle and guard Jeremy Ingram from Wake Forest are waiting to become eligible.

The loss to Marquette was unfortunate but the Pirates can't afford to dwell on it. There are important games remaining that will be significant in determining the program's future.


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02/23/2007 12:33:03 AM

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