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View from the 'ville
Friday, February 26, 2009

By Al Myatt

ECU forced to regroup for Senior Night

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

East Carolina's chances for its first winning season in basketball since 1996-97 took a severe hit with a 76-62 loss to Marshall in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum on Wednesday night.

The Thundering Herd jumped out to a 12-0 lead and never trailed in taking its first Conference USA road win of the season. Marshall swept its regular season series with the Pirates, following up on a 72-64 victory in Huntington on Jan. 10.

ECU coach Mack McCarthy indicated that his players didn't match Marshall's intensity.

"They played harder on offense than we did on defense and on the other end I thought they played harder, too," McCarthy said. "That hasn't really happened a lot this year to this basketball team. We were coming off a really solid performance at Tulsa, but we did not build on that tonight at all."

The Pirates traditionally have been much stronger at home than on the road and that pattern has held true this season. ECU managed to lead 39-33 at the half against the Golden Hurricane with 53.8 percent shooting in the first 20 minutes but the Pirates hit just 21.2 percent in the second half as Tulsa rallied for a 72-62 win.

ECU is 10-5 at home this season and 3-9 on the road. The Pirates are 4-3 in C-USA home games and 1-6 in away games in league play.

The tendency to play better at home added to the disappointment of the loss to Marshall (13-15, 5-8). ECU went into the game seeking a school record sixth C-USA win in a season.

The Thundering Herd used some hot shooting to take a 39-28 lead at the half, connecting on 51.6 percent of its first half field goal attempts. That number included six of 13 from behind the arc for 46.2 percent. Marshall had just two turnovers before halftime and committed only five for the game.

"Our defense wasn't good," McCarthy said. "When we helped, we didn't get rotation. When we got rotation, it was one guy rotating, but the next guy didn't. Because they got off to the lead, they were able to really toy with us on that end. They were patient enough offensively to keep the ball moving until we broke down defensively.

"We're like a lot of teams in that we play with a little more energy and a little more intensity when we're making shots. And we never got to the point tonight when we were making shots on a regular basis."

The Pirates had been averaging 23 attempts per game from three-point land but made only four of 12 for 33.3 percent against Marshall. That was slightly below ECU's 37.9 percent connection rate on threes for the season.

"More and more teams have tried to take the three-pointer away from us," McCarthy said. "Normally the answer is getting stops and getting out in transition and making some when you have a numbers advantage. Because we weren't getting any stops or enough consecutive stops, we never really beat them back down the floor. The times where we did get a stop, they did a really nice job in transition of spreading out and locating the shooters.

"Because they played a smaller lineup with a lot of perimeter players they were able to switch on the perimeter. You can take the threes away if you're willing to switch on the perimeter."

While Marshall devoted its defensive emphasis to ECU's perimeter and limited national leader Brock Young to just four assists, the Pirates did get some solid production in the paint.

Sophomore center Chad Wynn made six of his field goal attempts and all four of his free throws for 16 points. His personal production was small consolation in the loss.

"We have to come out with more effort," Wynn said. "We're embarrassed individually, as a team, for the program and for all of ECU. They all deserve to see us play harder than we did tonight. We have one home game left to come out and play hard for the fans and for us.

"We're down to the last game and we can't lose on Senior Night."

Freshman power forward Darrius Morrow had 15 points and seven rebounds to supplement the Pirates' inside punch.

The outcome dropped ECU to 13-14 overall with just two regular season contests remaining. The Pirates host UAB on Saturday at 7 p.m. and then have a week to prepare for the regular season finale at Central Florida on March 7.

The Blazers are in good position for a first-round bye in the Conference USA Tournament. The byes are accorded to the top four clubs in the final regular-season standings for the 12-team league. UAB will be coming off an emotional matchup with Memphis in Birmingham on Thursday night (9 p.m., ESPN2).

The game with the Blazers this weekend will be Senior Night for ECU scorers Sam Hinnant and James Legan.

ECU has shown the ability to rise to the occasion on Senior Night the last two seasons, topping Texas-El Paso 79-78 in 2007 and edging Houston 84-83 last year.

The challenge of achieving a winning season aside, the Pirate program is making progress. ECU hasn't had 13 wins since the 2003-04 season. The win total was just six the season before McCarthy took the reins in 2007-08 and guided the Pirates to an 11-19 record.

McCarthy was trying to factor in the improvement as he dealt with the feeling that the Pirates let a good chance at a "W" get away on Wednesday night.

"They've done so many good things," said the ECU coach. "It's hard to be angry when you step back and look with a little perspective about the things that they've done this year. We've really missed some opportunities that we needed to cash in on.

"We've had three different chances to get to .500 in the league and we blew them. We had a chance to stay over .500 overall tonight and we didn't do that. There has to be a little bit more of a sense of urgency in all phases of a student-athlete's life, but I think we really missed an opportunity (against Marshall)."

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02/26/2009 03:24:22 AM


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