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View from the 'ville
Thursday, December 20, 2007

By Al Myatt

McCarthy priming Pirates for more

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Can the East Carolina basketball team deliver an encore after its landmark 75-69 win over N.C. State on Dec. 8?

The Pirates have been focused on exams, getting some needed time for healing and refining their halfcourt game since the inspiring triumph over the Wolfpack.

UNC Wilmington will provide the opposition as ECU's two-week break comes to an end on Saturday night at 7 p.m. in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.

The Pirates had to practice at the campus recreation center immediately following their exam break.

"We were out of our building for three days so we had to be creative during those three days for graduation," said ECU coach Mack McCarthy. "We've gotten back after it starting on Sunday. We focused on some things we needed to get better at and I think we've made some progress."

Specifically, the Pirates worked on their halfcourt game.

"Our halfcourt execution was one thing we felt like we really needed to improve on," McCarthy said. "I think we know a whole lot more about our team after the first nine games. I think we now know what we're looking for out of the halfcourt. The other thing is the halfcourt defensively — both man and zone.

"We also had gotten to the point where we needed to put a few wrinkles in. We needed to — not change substantially what we were doing — but to tweak some of the things to put our guys in position where they could have some success."

The down time has given several players a chance to recover from various ailments.

"I think the layoff was good for us from a health standpoint," McCarthy said. "We had some people that were banged up. We pretty much got everybody back close to 100 percent."

Sophomore forward Gabe Blair was dealing with some bone chips in a foot. Freshman center Chad Wynn got some additional time to mend from an ankle injury. Soph forward John Fields had some back spasms that have cleared up. Senior forward Taylor Gagnon has had to wear a mask because of a nose injury but is improving.

UNCW forward Todd Hendley was questionable with an ankle injury going into a 90-86 loss at Coastal Carolina on Wednesday night but played 12 minutes against the Chanticleers before fouling out with 11 points. UNCW had beaten Coastal 80-68 at home on Dec. 9. The Seahawks are now 7-4.

"They're a veteran team," said McCarthy of UNCW. "They start four seniors. That's pretty unusual in college basketball and generally means you're going to have a pretty darn good year. They're playing pretty good."

UNCW topped the Pirates 59-44 last season in the Port City. The Seahawks went 7-22 in their first season under Coach Benny Moss. ECU was 6-24 last season.

"We watched last year's film and they are a completely different team," McCarthy said. "Some of the same pieces, but they're a completely different team when you add (T.J.) Carter and the point guard (Chad) Tomko. You've got guys coming off the bench like Dominique Lacy (6-foot-7 freshman) who wasn't on the team last year.

"Plus Hendley and (Vladimir) Kuljanin (6-10 senior center) and (Daniel) Fountain (6-4 senior guard), guys who were on the team last year, are playing better, too. They're a whole lot better than when we played them December 5th last year."

UNCW hasn't changed its style of play but is doing a better job of executing the same systems, according to McCarthy.

"I think it took Benny and (the players) a little time to get used to each other, which is normal," said the ECU coach, who moved from assistant to head coach prior to this season. "They went into last season thinking they would have Carter with them and they didn't have him so they were adjusting on the fly, a little bit like we were. They had a disappointing season but they look like the Wilmington of old as far as being a really good team.

"They're one of the better offensive teams statistically in America."

Carter sat out last season to recuperate from sports hernia surgery. He was leading the team with a 17.3 scoring average going into the game at Coastal on Wednesday night. Kuljanin was averaging nearly a double-double with 15.4 points and 9.5 rebounds. The Seahawks were hitting 48.1 percent of their field goals and 78.2 percent of their free throws.

Fan support was a huge factor in the win over State but with many students home for the holidays, the Pirates may not have the same degree of homecourt advantage.

"I think it's going to be really important," McCarthy said of the turnout. "I don't have any clue about what the crowd will be like. We had a good crowd during the holidays when they came here the last time two years ago."

ECU, 4-5 thus far this season, won the last meeting in Greenville by an 82-69 margin on Dec. 31, 2005. The Pirates are 19-10 at home in the series with UNCW. The Seahawks are 20-6 on their home floor and have taken two of three at neutral sites. UNCW has an overall 32-26 lead in the series.

"Coming off a good performance, I think folks who are looking for something to do will come on out," McCarthy said. "I think some students will drive back. Our student body and their student body have a lot of friends back and forth — bragging rights and all that.

"They brought a lot of people the last time they played here. They brought busloads of people. I think it will be a good atmosphere. I don't anticipate it being N.C. State atmosphere but I think it will be a nice atmosphere."

The win over State has helped ECU's confidence.

"We can get after them a little bit more now," McCarthy said. "They know what they're capable of. We know what they're capable of. We can be even more demanding than we were. We were already demanding a lot but we can be even more demanding than we were before."

The Pirates will take the floor again as the only ECU team to ever beat beat an ACC opponent in men's basketball — albeit 14 days after that courageous comeback victory. Junior guard Sam Hinnant led the way against the Wolfpack with 30 points, including 6-of-8 shooting behind the 3-point arc.

Whether Hinnant can recapture that torrid shooting touch and help ECU show that it can play on that level consistently is a legitimate question that will be answered in part on Saturday night.

"I'm not sure how it will be from a performance standpoint," McCarthy said. "Some teams come out of those breaks a little rusty. Different teams react to it in different ways. We tried to really challenge our guys to focus on some things that we felt like we needed to improve on and I think they did.

"How that will convert into performance, I don't know."

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01/05/2008 03:23:25 PM


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