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From the Anchor Desk
Tuesday, January 20, 2008

By Brian Bailey

Shakeup preceding road trip

By Brian Bailey
All rights reserved.

On normal days, the East Carolina basketball team is divided into two colors, a purple squad and a black squad. Itís for scrimmaging purposes, to pit the first team opposite the second squad.

Everyone dressed in purple on Monday.

The Pirates were beaten 88-67 by Texas-El Paso in a game that ECU coach Mack McCarthy said his team played well in spurts. On Monday, McCarthy said thatís how the team practiced last week, well in spurts, and that wasnít good enough.

Starting slots would be earned this week, starting on Monday.

Two of the last three teams to visit Williams Arena were tall and talented. Both of those games had similar plots and endings.

Wake Forest came to town in December. Yesterday the Demon Deacons took over as the nationís top ranked college basketball team, and the lone unbeaten on the season.

Youíll recall that East Carolina battled the Deacs in the first half and trailed by only 41-37 at intermission. Wake then outscored the Pirates 54-17 in the second half to put an exclamation mark on a 95-54 win.

Wake Forest has since beaten North Carolina on their rise to the top of the college basketball world. Wake is playing like a Final Four team for sure.

Wakeís closest call to date came against UTEP, the Conference USA team that put on Saturday's show at Williams Arena.

The Deacons beat the Miners 82-79 in the semifinals of the 76 Classic in Anaheim, CA. Wake guard Jeff Teague hit two free throws with :14 left to win it. UTEP missed a three pointer to tie it in the final seconds.

Teague had 29 points for Wake Forest, while Stefon Jackson had 31 for the Miners.

Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio called his teamís win over UTEP a ďcharacter win.Ē

Fast forward to this past Saturday. Jackson had 19 points in the Miners' win over East Carolina.

McCarthy told me last week that he thought UTEP could battle Memphis for the Conference USA title. I think many at Williams Arena would agree after watching the Miners on Saturday night.

The Pirates once again battled hard against a much bigger and more talented opponent. ECU trailed by as many as 17 early in the game, but rallied to cut the lead to three just before the half. The Pirates trimmed that lead to two at one point, but then the Miners put the game away with a 16-0 run.

I came away really impressed by UTEPís Randy Culpepper. Culpepper is listed at 6 foot even, but he canít be 5-10. One thing is certain: He can absolutely jump out of the gym.

I have never seen an opposing player put on a show like Culpepper did during warm-ups before the ECU game. He was a one man, slam dunk competition. It was like watching Babe Ruth take batting practice. Several of us, fortunate enough to be in the coliseum that early, were thoroughly entertained!

Culpepper doesnít even start for UTEP, but he is an outstanding player. I found this link on YouTube of another impressive dunk for the talented sophomore:

Coach Mac said some things went the way he had hoped they would. Turnovers turned out to be the difference.

"If you told me we were going to out-rebound them and shoot more free throws than them, I would have thought we had a really good chance to win the basketball game," said McCarthy. "But I had no idea we would turn it over 19 times. They`re pretty good defensively; they're long and they've got some size which bothers you, but they're not really even a pressing team.

"They smelled some blood tonight and we didn't handle that well.Ē

One thing particularly stuck with the Pirate coach.

"Once they made their little run, I thought we hung our heads a little bit, which bothers me," he said. "We played an awful lot like we practiced this week, just OK. That's not good enough against a good basketball team, which they are."

After a brief break last week, the schedule really gets tough now. The Pirates will spend most of this week in Texas, visiting Houston on Wednesday and then taking on Southern Methodist in Dallas on Saturday.

The Pirates fly back home just in time to welcome Memphis to town, and then head back to Houston to take on Rice to wrap up the month.

As Coach Mac has said, there isnít really a team that his Pirates canít beat; nor is there a team that canít do the same to ECU.

Thatís the beauty of playing the game.


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01/20/2009 02:50:14 AM


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