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View from the 'ville
Friday, February 13, 2009

By Al Myatt

Resilience trumps panic for Pirates

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

East Carolina fans shouldn't despair over a 73-64 basketball loss at Tulane on Wednesday night.

The Pirates are returning to the supportive environment of Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum on Saturday night to host Rice at 7 p.m., and one positive attribute of Coach Mack McCarthy's ECU teams has been how well they respond to adversity.

Before traveling to face the Green Wave in New Orleans, the Pirates had come home from a disappointing 76-70 road loss to Rice in Houston and bounced back with home wins over Southern Miss and Central Florida.

Last season, the Pirates were overwhelmed 91-62 at Texas-El Paso in late February but regrouped quickly and won three straight, including an 84-81 victory over a strong Houston club.

McCarthy said his players are learning the importance of addressing correctable areas of performance in practice and preparing for upcoming challenges as opposed to dwelling on negative aspects of the recent past.

ECU is 12-11 overall and 4-6 in Conference USA while the Owls are 8-15 for the season and 3-6 in the league. Rice shot 50 percent in the first half of the teams' first meeting and led 34-15 with seven minutes left in the half. The Pirates closed within four points three times in the second half but couldn't catch coach Ben Braun's club.

"We played pretty well other than the first 10 minutes of the game at Rice and had a chance to win down the stretch," McCarthy said.

The Owls will bring some momentum to Greenville following an 88-72 win over Southern Miss in Houston on Wednesday night. Freshman Connor Frizzelle scored 24 points against the Golden Eagles and Rice was dialed in from long distance with a school record 16 three-pointers.

Frizzelle was six for nine behind the arc. Rodney Foster, who finished with 20 points, and Cory Pflieger, who scored 18, each had five connections from three-point land.

Rice hit 58 percent from the field. The Owls dropped eight of nine beyond the arc in the second half. Rice used a similar method of operation against Southern Miss that proved effective against the Pirates in terms of a fast start, leading by as many as 17 points before intermission.

Playing at home creates the realistic possibility that ECU will shoot better than its last outing when the Pirates made just 17 of 46 from the floor at Tulane for roughly 37 percent. ECU managed to make just five of 18 of its three-point tries for 28 percent.

In its last two home wins, the Pirates hit 46 percent overall from the floor and 27 of 53 behind the arc for a torrid 51 percent. That included 15 threes against UCF to match the school record.

In comparison, ECU has made 38 percent from the field and 33 percent on threes in its last two road games.

ECU will need to rebound better than in its first matchup with the Owls when Rice had a 44-37 advantage on the boards. Aleks Perka had 11 rebounds in that game and 6-foot-10 Trey Stanton grabbed 10.

The Pirates had anticipated that 6-foot-7 DaQuan Joyner would be back to bolster the frontcourt depth situation but his absence for the remainder of the season stresses an already thin frontcourt rotation. Still, ECU has been getting some strong efforts from its people in the paint on occasion.

"We've kind of been playing by committee inside," McCarthy said. "Darius Morrow has had some outstanding games. He had his career high of 21 (points) against SMU (Jan. 24). Against Rice, Chad Wynn had his career high of 21.

"Jamar Abrams, if you could call him a post man, a 6-foot-5 post man, has been having some nice games offensively, too."

Abrams scored a career-high 25 points in an 89-75 win over UCF as he made 10 of 12 from the floor and five of six behind the arc.

"We're really experiencing something pretty special right now," McCarthy said of Abrams. "We're watching him grow up right before our eyes. He literally has gotten more consistent as the season has gone on. At the very beginning he was really struggling. He didn't put up any numbers early in the year despite the fact that he's a really good player.

"But he's starting to understand how to play, when to play hard and he's doing a better job defensively. He makes up for his errors defensively now just by hustling. He is an exceptional athlete. He had a couple of dunks (in the UCF game) that were incredible. He also has enough finesse to step outside and go 5-of-6 from three-point range."

While the Pirates have had different players stepping up, McCarthy is looking for more consistency from his lineup.

"We have struggled recently with the consistency issue," McCarthy said. "Probably having four sophomores and two freshmen who are playing regularly is contributing to that. That's something we've got to get cleared up in order to be more successful."

Success has some significant implications for the Pirates. ECU hasn't had a winning season since 1996-97. A winning record could lead to an NIT berth if ECU doesn't make a stunning run through the C-USA Tournament.

ECU has already improved on last season's 11-19 record and a win over Rice would be gravy in that regard.

The Pirates may have been down after the loss at Tulane but under McCarthy, they've seldom been counted out.

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02/13/2009 02:21:47 AM


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