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View from the 'ville
Friday, January 23, 2009

By Al Myatt

ECU seeks to break roadkill role

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

The road is long with many a winding turn in Conference USA, particularly for East Carolina in basketball.

The Pirates were 1,250 miles from the supportive environment of Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum on Wednesday night for a C-USA road game at Houston, a team ECU shaded 84-83 in its final home contest of the 2007-08 season.

This time, the Cougars turned the tables from last year's loss, topping the Pirates in just about every statistical category in an 85-67 win.

Last year's result seemed to have had an effect on Houston's mindset for this year's matchup. ECU dropped 15 of 40 attempts from behind the 3-point arc against the Cougars last season.

"It was a very good win against a team that I had a lot of fear about because of their ability to hit the threes from the outside and their outstanding point guard Brock Young who had 12 assists and only two turnovers," said Houston coach Tom Penders. "They have a balanced team, but our defense just took them out of everything.

"They went to five guards at one point because they couldn't run their regular offense in the first half. We got a lot of easy baskets in transition and off steals. That's what allowed us to open it up to a 20-point lead at halftime."

The Cougars pushed their lead to 26 points on a couple of occasions early in the second half. Houston finished with a 40-30 advantage in rebounding, had a 34-22 edge in points in the paint and dominated 16-2 in fast break points.

ECU made just 5 of 19 attempts from beyond the arc in Wednesday night's game, a differential of 20 points from last year's long range output against the Cougars.

That outcome wasn't surprising in the least in terms of ECU's tradition of struggling away from home in C-USA. Since joining C-USA for basketball in the 2001-02 season, the Pirates are a dismal 4-53 in league games on the road.

ECU has as many winless seasons on the road in C-USA (4) as the Pirates actually have road wins. ECU lost its first 20 road games in C-USA before topping former league member South Florida 59-57 on Feb. 3, 2004.

The Pirates added a 63-50 win at Southern Miss that season on March 6 for their largest road margin of victory in C-USA and their only multi-win season away from home in league play to date.

After topping UAB 67-64 in Birmingham on Feb. 16, 2005, ECU had a string of 23 consecutive road losses in C-USA before winning 75-68 at Rice on March 5 of last season.

Next up is a 5 p.m. game at Southern Methodist on Saturday. ECU blitzed the Mustangs 82-54 in Greenville last season.

The Pirates made the 240-mile trek north from Houston to Dallas and had a workout at SMU on Thursday afternoon. After a study hall this morning, ECU coach Mack McCarthy planned to assemble his players for another preparatory session at SMU this afternoon.

The Mustangs are guided by former North Carolina player and coach Matt Doherty, which adds a bit of intrigue to tomorrow night's matchup.

The Ponies had their own problems on the road on Wednesday night in a 53-50 loss at Marshall. SMU seemingly had the ball for the last shot in regulation with the score tied at 50, but Derek Williams of the Mustangs missed a jumper that senior forward Markel Humphrey of the Thundering Herd rebounded with four seconds left.

Humphrey heaved a shot from 75 feet that banked in at the buzzer to set off a state of delirium at the Cam Henderson Center in Huntington.

Doherty seemed good-natured in his reaction and detached himself from the personal disappointment of the moment to comment on the frequency of such excitement in the college game.

"I had a pretty good angle on it," Doherty said. "I wasn't feeling real good as it left his hands. He didn't call 'bank' though. He should have called 'bank.'

"That's why basketball is the best sport in the country. In football, Michael Crabtree makes a game-winning touchdown at Texas Tech against the Longhorns, but those plays only happen once a year, twice a year, three times a year (in football). In basketball, you get this once a week."

ECU and SMU had unanimous company among six C-USA road teams on Wednesday night. Memphis beat visiting Rice 80-52, host Central Florida topped Southern Miss 73-61, Tulane edged Tulsa 76-75 in overtime in New Orleans and UAB sent Texas-El Paso on its way with a 78-73 Blazers win at Bartow Arena.

There are a number of factors commonly cited in explaining the homecourt advantage in college hoops. These include the home team's familiarity with its own arena, the support of its fans and its proximity to the game site.

The travel factor is even more pronounced in C-USA because of the geographic dispersal of its membership. SMU returned from the 1,000-mile junket to Marshall prior to its game with ECU.

When the Pirates were in the Colonial Athletic Association, bus rides were the predominant mode of transportation. ECU has joined the jet set in C-USA and too often has played as if jet lagged. The Pirates and former president George W. Bush have been adjusting to Dallas this week.

ECU also will have to adjust to some potential mismatches provided by the Ponies, who have seven players 6-foot-8 or taller. Guards Paul McCoy and Williams average 13.2 and 12.1 points respectively. Mouhammad Faye, who is 6-9, averages 11.2 points and 7-1 Bamba Fall is the Mustangs' leading rebounder at 7.0 per game.

McCarthy had hoped to have 6-7 DaQuan Joyner back in the frontcourt rotation but the sophomore forward did not make the swing through Texas.

The Pirates (9-8, 1-3 C-USA) can escape the league cellar with a win. The same could be said for SMU (6-10, 1-3).

ECU could certainly use the momentum of a rare road victory as it returns home to host No. 22 Memphis on Wednesday. The talented Tigers (15-3, 5-0) have won nine in a row going into a game at non-conference rival Tennessee tomorrow afternoon.

There are exceptions to every rule and Memphis has been immune to road difficulties in C-USA, having won 47 straight against league competition.

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01/23/2009 01:55:54 AM


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