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Charlotte Crashes Boards, Sinks Pirates

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East Carolina head coach Bill Herrion, meeting with the media after Saturday's Conference USA clash at Williams Arena against in-state rival Charlotte, cited a poor first-half performance as a key reason for the Pirates' 84-75 loss.
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By Denny O'Brien

GREENVILLE — For a few moments on Saturday, it looked as if East Carolina would overcome a double-digit second-half deficit, rally past in-state rival Charlotte and post that historic first Conference USA victory.

Trailing by 16 with 8:20 to go, ECU mounted a furious run to ignite the crowd and close the gap to 67-62 with less than five minutes to play.

The Pirates would get no closer, though, as the 49ers had all the answers down the stretch en route to notching an all-important 84-75 road victory.

With the win, Charlotte (8-6, 2-1 C-USA) took a 5-4 lead in its overall series with East Carolina (6-9, 0-3) in addition to gaining a 1-0 advantage in league competition, since the battle marked the first time the two schools have met in C-USA play.

"Any road victory you can get in Conference USA is very important," Charlotte head coach Bobby Lutz said. "They are very hard to come by.

"I was very pleased with our guys coming off a disappointing loss (at Cincinnati). We came out very ready to play. It was one of our better all-around games."

Jobey Thomas led four 49ers in double figures with 20 points, but it was the tough inside play of Cam Stephens, who chipped in 19 points and a game-high 12 rebounds, that fueled a first-half run that put the Niners ahead to stay. It marked the fourth-consecutive double-double for Stephens.

ECU sophomore forward Erroyl Bing led all scorers with 24 points, while adding nine rebounds. Bing canned nine of his 11 shots, including five of six from behind the arc. Fellow soph Gabriel Mikulas added 16 points, nine rebounds and a game-high five assists in his first home game since returning from a 13-game suspension.

Sparked by the blue-collar efforts of Stephens, Charlotte held a 30-16 rebounding advantage in the first half. Crashing the offensive glass with a vengeance, the 49ers pulled down 17 offensive boards to help build a 12-point lead at the break.

"I don't know if you really win or lose a game in the first half, but we obviously didn't help ourselves the first 20 minutes today," ECU head coach Bill Herrion said. "We got our butts handed to us on the backboard.

"It was just disappointing at halftime that we were getting out-worked and out-hustled. It seemed like they got every loose ball."

Despite Charlotte's decided advantage on the boards, East Carolina hung with its in-state foe for much of an exciting first half. Then, after Mikulas's free throws pulled the Pirates to within four at 36-32 with 2:40 to play, Charlotte turned up the heat, closing the half on a 10-2 run to take control of the game.

ECU point guard Travis Holcomb-Faye acknowledged that the Pirates didn't match the the 49ers' first-half intensity, and noted that Herrion had a message waiting for his team in the locker room.

"We got in the locker room, and coach (Herrion) wrote the word 'heart' on the board," Holcomb-Faye said. "He said they just played with more heart than us in the first half. They were getting loose balls, rebounds, and out-hustling us."

The heart-to-heart talk about 'heart' must have had an effect on the Pirates, who stormed out of the gates in the second half, scoring five quick points to melt Charlotte's lead to seven. Even after falling behind by 16 with just over eight minutes to play, ECU showed the grit to not quit, fighting and clawing to the very end.

Fueled by two Moussa Badiane blocked shots, East Carolina went on an 11-0 run to creep within five when Mikulas nailed two free throws with 4:42 remaining.

But just as it did all afternoon long, Charlotte responded when it had to, getting a crucial three from forward Curtis Nash to dampen ECU's late upset bid.

Just as had been the case in a league loss at UAB last Tuesday, the Pirates got within striking distance, then couldn't make enough baskets at crunch time to get over the hump.

"We've got to make shots," Herrion said. "I thought we had a lot of wide-open looks at crucial times."

East Carolina shot just 41 percent from the field for the game, though the Pirates did find some success from behind the arc, hitting ten of their 29 attempts. Charlotte didn't fair much better from the floor, connecting on just 41 percent of its attempts in a physical, hard-fought game.

Though winless through three league games, the Pirates have been competitive in each contest. According to Bing, league foes can expect a dogfight from the C-USA newcomers every night out.

"We're not going down without a fight," Bing said. "If we're going to lose every game, we're going to lose every game swinging."

The Pirates will have to come out swinging on Wednesday night, as Rick Pitino brings a pressing Louisville team into Greenville for what looks to be another hard-fought C-USA contest.

Box Score


CHARLOTTE (8-6, 2-1 C-USA)

Nash 5-10, 3-4, 16; Stephens 9-16, 1-1, 19; Williams 0-3, 0-0, 0; Brown 3-9, 8-10, 14; Thomas 6-14, 5-6, 20; Johnson 2-5, 2-2, 6; Reed 1-3, 1-1, 3; Niparavicius 0-2, 0-0, 0; Basden 2-5, 2-2, 6 — 84.

EAST CAROLINA (6-9, 0-3)

Brown 3-9, 3-4, 9; Bing 9-11, 1-2, 24; Mikulas 2-7, 12-12, 16; Hawkins 1-5, 0-0, 2; Holcomb-Faye 2-6, 1-3, 7; Primus 2-6, 0-0, 5; Boddie 0-1, 0-0, 0; Badiane 2-3, 2-3, 6; Moore 2-8, 0-0, 6 — 75.

Halftime: Charlotte 46, East Carolina 34.

3-Point Field Goals: Charlotte 6-17 (Thomas 3-5, Nash 3-6); East Carolina 10-29 (Bing 5-6, Holcomb-Faye 2-4, Moore 2-7, Primus 1-4).

Rebounds: Charlotte 43 (Stephens 12, Williams 7, Thomas 6, Nash 4); East Carolina 35 (Bing 9, Mikulas 9, Badiane 6, Brown 5).

Assists: Charlotte 9 (Brown 3); East Carolina 14 (Mikulas 5).

Total Fouls: Charlotte 19, East Carolina 19.

Fouled out: Charlotte - Johnson.

Technical Fouls: None.

Attendance: 6,430.

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Copyright 2001  All rights reserved.  This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

02/23/2007 02:06:00 AM

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