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View from the 'ville
Thursday, January 19, 2006

By Al Myatt

First conference win elusive for Pirates


GREENVILLE — East Carolina's bid for its first Conference USA win in the Ricky Stokes coaching era wound up like that old Rolling Stones' lyric — "just a shot away."

Southern Methodist topped the Pirates 74-70 in overtime when ECU failed to score after calling timeout with 18.9 seconds left in regulation. The Pirates had possession in their frontcourt with the score tied at 62.

Junior point guard Japhet McNeil threaded an entry pass to 6-foot-8 senior Corey Rouse in the low post on the right side of the lane. The athletic forward from Kinston made a spin move and hoisted a left-handed jump hook over 7-1 Mustangs freshman Bamba Fall but it came up short.

SMU's Bryan Hopkins, who led all scorers with 24 points, made an old fashioned 3-point play 14 seconds into the extra period and the Mustangs held the lead the rest of the way to emerge triumphant in the battle of two teams who came in 0-2 in league play.

"We wanted to go to Corey," confirmed Stokes. "We thought he had a good chance to get fouled or get isolated one on one. I thought it was a good look. The team did a good job of executing. We've just got to get that shot down."

Rouse had the 22nd double-double of his college career with 14 points and 10 rebounds but couldn't score over SMU's 7-footer with the game on the line.

"Maybe that's my fault," Stokes said with a mischievous look. "We recruited Falls at South Carolina. Maybe if Coach (Chris) Ferguson and I had done a better job ... "

The South Carolina reference was obviously an allusion to Stokes' stint as a Gamecocks assistant before taking over the reigns of the ECU program this season.

The what ifs also included a long dry spell for the Pirates in the opening half.

ECU (6-10, 0-3 C-USA) sprang out to a 16-8 lead but the Pirates went into hibernation offensively over the last 10:08 of the first half. During that span, the Ponies surged for a 27-10 run that left ECU facing a 35-26 deficit at the break.

The Pirates made just 9 of 28 shots in the first 20 minutes, a chilly 32.1 percent.

"It started in the first half," said sophomore transfer Jeremy Ingram. "We didn't come out with the right intensity. You know it takes all 40 minutes, and, in this case, all 45 minutes."

The Pirates made a run in the second half and led 54-48 after a layup by McNeil with 9:21 to go.

"I thought we did a very good job of forcing overtime," said SMU coach Jimmy Tubbs, who consumed several aspirin at his postgame news conference.

The Mustangs did an even better job in the final five minutes, tightening up defensively to limit the Pirates to 2 for 12 shooting from the field during that span, a frigid 16.7 percent.

"The shots just weren't falling," said Ingram, who made four attempts to connect from behind the arc in overtime before finally getting a three to drop with 30 seconds to go. That cut SMU's lead to 72-69.

Hopkins stepped to the line and sank a pair to make it a two-possession game again as he pushed SMU's lead to 74-69 with 28 seconds left.

Some had described the SMU game as a "must win situation" for the Pirates but Stokes tried to put the contest's importance into proper perspective.

"Every game will be the next big game, especially in conference play," Stokes said. "It's a big game because we're looking for our first conference win."

Ingram said the Pirates would begin regrouping and preparing for the upcoming challenge at practice today. ECU plays at Tulane at 8 p.m. on Saturday. The Green Wave has been through the devastation of Hurricane Katrina since the Bill Herrion coaching era came to an end with a 77-71 loss in the Big Easy last March 5.

"I'm curious to see for myself," Stokes said of the pending trip to the recovering area. "They relocated to College Station, Texas A&M. I can't imagine being gone for several months like that."

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02/23/2007 12:29:46 AM


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