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Pirate Notebook No. 330
Monday, December 10, 2007

By Denny O'Brien

State win most memorable

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

There have been wins at Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum. Big wins.

Despite East Carolina’s humble hardwood history, there have been several memorable moments that offered hope for its long-suffering hoops program.

There was that historic first win over a Conference USA opponent in 2002, which just happened to occur against powerhouse Louisville and Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino. [ View 10/17/2002 Story ] That sparked a court-rushing celebration and elevated then-coach Bill Herrion to rock star status.

Then there were victories over nationally ranked Marquette. Two of them. [ View 02/26/2002 Story; View 12/30/2002 Story ] That anointed Minges as perhaps the toughest building in which NBA superstar Dwyane Wade ever played.

But how do those wins measure against Saturday’s thrilling 75-69 victory over Tobacco Road neighbor N.C. State? [ View 12/09/2007 Story ] While those were likely better teams than the one East Carolina beat Saturday night, those victories weren’t as historically significant as beating the Wolfpack.

“I’m not sure that I’m the one to address what it means to the program,” Pirates coach Mack McCarthy said. “The folks who have been here and filled this building, and tried to get ECU basketball to where they want it to be can probably speak better to that.

“I know it was a lot of fun. It was an unbelievable atmosphere. I’ve coached a long time and at a lot of great places, and I don’t think I’ve ever been in a building as loud as that was. It was deafening in there. That was kinda fun.”

It typically is when the Pirates host an opponent of any historical merit. While ECU fans have never been accused of fully embracing the school’s basketball program, they at least understand enough about the sport to know which schools are storied powerhouses.

Visits by Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis and Marquette produced sellout crowds. And in each case, the atmosphere inside Williams Arena was one of which any perennial Top 25 program would be proud, one with enough electricity to neutralize an enormous talent gap.

With Saturday marking the first time the Wolfpack had ever stepped onto ECU’s home floor, you can bet the fans wouldn’t disappoint. Thanks to Sam Hinnant, Darrell Jenkins, and John Fields, the Pirates wouldn’t either.

That ECU athletics director Terry Holland convinced State to come was surprising enough, but to actually beat the Pack at its flagship sport seemed an improbable scenario from the moment the schedule was released.

It also seemed the case with 17:35 remaining, when Wolfpack forward Gavin Grant completed a three-point play to push State ahead 47-38. That’s the pivotal point in the script when the pesky upstart is supposed to wither away, if not completely self-destruct.

And perhaps that might have been the case had McCarthy not penned the script he wrote.

While it’s too early to label him the long-term solution to ECU’s troubles, there is no question that he was the best coach in Greenville Saturday night. Against a bigger, more talented squad, McCarthy mixed a defensive formula that masked ECU’s deficiencies down low.

“Sidney’s (Lowe) really good at adjusting,” McCarthy said. “If you show him the same thing twice, he’ll eat you alive — the same match-up, the same defense.

“So, we tried to change constantly to give them different looks, different match-ups. We even had some bad match-ups out there at times just because we didn’t want to give him the same look any two times.”

That was a frustrating mix for the Wolfpack, especially after intermission.

Super freshman J.J. Hickson dominated the Pirates inside for the first 20 minutes, but was completely suffocated after the half. By mixing in some zone and often double- and triple-teaming him, Hickson had little if any impact down the stretch.

Likewise for Brandon Costner, one of the ACC’s top returning players. Though he finished with ten boards, he was a virtual non-factor offensively for much of the night.

Even more frustrating for State had to be the 30-point effort from ECU’s three-point assassin. Regardless of what defensive adjustments the Wolfpack made, Hinnant likely could have hit from the parking lot had the officials allowed it.

Package it all together and you have the how behind ECU’s shocker over State. But for most in attendance, the final score provided the only meaningful details of what occurred.

Perhaps the most accurate way to truly define the significance of this win is by waiting to see what is produced from it. Was this a rare appearance by Mack McCarthy and the Miracles, or the awakening of a program that has been largely dormant throughout its existence?

More evidence will arrive soon enough, starting with a visit from rival UNC-Wilmington in two weeks. If the Pirates and their fans can perform consistently at a higher level moving forward, perhaps the victory over N.C. State will be viewed as a watershed moment.

If not, it will join victories over Louisville and Marquette, isolated events that briefly replaced the numbness and relative indifference to ECU basketball with joy and hope.

Regardless, it’s hard not to rank Saturday’s win as the most memorable in ECU history. After all, it was the first time State traveled to Greenville and the only victory the Pirates own over an ACC opponent.

Those who witnessed it are certain not to forget.

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12/10/2007 01:06:41 AM

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