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Pirates Hijack Louisville for First C-USA Win

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East Carolina's Travis Holcomb-Faye, left, gets pressure from Louisville's Alhaji Mohammed as he passes the ball during the first half of the Pirates' Wednesday night game against Louisville in Greenville. Holcomb-Faye scored 20 points as ECU gained its first Conference USA victory with an 87-77 upset of the Cardinals.
Photo: Bob Jordan, ©Associated Press

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By Denny O'Brien

GREENVILLE — Marquee wins have been few and far between for the East Carolina basketball program. In fact, you could probably count the number of landmark victories on a single hand.

But last night, in front of a frenzied, jam-packed Minges Coliseum, the Pirates may have recorded their all-time best, defeating one of the nation's most storied programs — Louisville — coached by one of the most talented teachers in the game — Rick Pitino.

And they did so in convincing fashion.

It was the perfect Pirate script, one worthy of Oscar mention, as East Carolina (7-9, 1-3) cruised past tradition-rich Louisville (11-4, 2-2), 87-77, for its first-ever Conference USA win.

According to ECU third-year head coach Bill Herrion, alluding to competitive losses in his team's first three league contests, the win couldn't have come at a better time.

"If you're going to pick your first conference win in this league, I don't know if it could come against a more storied, historic college basketball program," Herrion said. "You're talking about a program that's won two national championships, has been to the Final Four many times.

"It was a tremendous win for our basketball team, for our kids, for our university, for our fans. What I'm so proud about is that these kids just keep playing and competing at a very high level."

The near-capacity crowd certainly embraced the magnitude of the win — especially the students. The boisterous bunch rushed the floor at the final horn, kicking off the post-game celebration.

That die-hard support didn't go unnoticed by the Pirates' coach.

"The home-court atmosphere that we have right now — I don't know if anybody else has it in this league," Herrion said. "Our fans are doing a tremendous job getting behind this basketball team, and our fans helped us win this game tonight.

"When those students ran on the court — that's what it's all about. That's what I've been waiting for at East Carolina."

With sophomore sensation Gabriel Mikulas plagued by foul trouble, Herrion got his wish from a band of unlikely heroes. Junior point guard Travis Holcomb-Faye tossed in 20 points on six-of-ten shooting, including two-of-three from behind the arc. He also had one of his better games directing the Pirates' offense, dishing out nine assists, while committing just three turnovers against the tough Louisville press.

The Pirates also got a much-needed boost from Brandon Hawkins, who broke out of a shooting slump to hit four treys in the first half. All totaled, the senior guard netted 18 points on a perfect five-of-five from the floor while making four of six free throw chances.

It was an encouraging performance for Hawkins, who came in as a substitute as opposed to his usual starting role. Herrion chose to start a bigger line-up against the smaller Cards, and hoped the move would remedy the veteran's shooting woes.

"Coach talked to me before the game and told me he wanted me to come off the bench," Hawkins said. "I felt fine when I came in the game. There wasn't really a lot of pressure on my back. I just knocked down some shots — it felt good."

Mikulas, who played just 15 minutes before fouling out, finished with 14 points.

Overall, East Carolina, which entered the game as the league's worst shooting team, hit 50 percent from the floor, including a hot 57 percent from three-point land. The Pirates also benefited from solid post play, which got them to the foul line 48 times.

"What they run is fundamentally sound," Pitino said about the Pirates' plan of attack. "They don't run a whole lot of plays, but what they run, they're terrific at. They have very good low-post passers and a very good offensive scheme."

ECU and the Cardinals played near-even basketball for much of the first half. The two swapped the lead like it was a hot potato, with neither enjoying more than a five-point advantage.

The Pirates took the lead for good when Hawkins' free throw put them ahead 37-36, with just less than three minutes before intermission. ECU stayed in control from there, allowing Louisville to get to within two just twice the rest of the way.

The key for the Pirates was their poise against the press, a defensive staple of Pitino-coached teams over the years. ECU committed just 14 turnovers, continuing its trend of solid ball-handling.

"Anytime you play against a team coached by Rick Pitino, you've got to handle the pressure," Herrion said. "Our kids did an unbelievable job handling the full-court pressure. I thought Travis Holcomb-Faye might have played his best floor game since he's been here."

While the Pirates' field general was directing the offense, freshman center Moussa Badiane was wreaking havoc on defense. The nation's leading shot blocker frustrated the smaller Cards all game long, blocking six shots before night's end, while altering a handful more.

The slender sultan of swat left quite an impression on Pitino — a nightmarish one at that.

"The biggest disappointment for me is that you have the number one shot blocker in the country, and you keep taking it to him," Pitino said. "You've got to give him the respect that he deserves by being the number one shot blocker.

"That's so insane — why would you do that? The one thing he can do is block shots. We saw ten minutes of his shot-blocking ability."

Badiane wasn't too shabby on offense, either, tossing in ten points while hitting four of his five shots.

Despite fouling out, sophomore guard Reece Gaines was able to weave his way to 21 points to lead the Cards in scoring. Guards Erik Brown and Bryant Northern added 14 apiece, completing a triumvirate of U of L players in double-figures.

Louisville tried to make it interesting down the stretch, but Kenyatta Brown's three with just over two minutes to play nailed the door shut. The senior guard's shot came at the most crucial of times, just after Mikulas fouled out, and as the shot clock was about to expire.

East Carolina bounced back from a poor rebounding effort against Charlotte on Saturday, to hold a 43-40 edge on the glass. The Pirates were paced on the glass by forward Jonathon Moore, who came off the bench to grab a game-high 12 boards.

"It's one game," Herrion cautioned. "But it's one great, great win for us. We've still got 12 more league games."

One of those will be Saturday at Saint Louis, where the Pirates fell 90-54 last year.

Box Score

East Carolina 87, Louisville 77


Myles 2-4 4-10 8, Whitehead 2-10 3-5 7, Mohammed 3-9 0-0 8, Gaines 7-13 5-5 21, Brown 6-21 0-0 14, Northern 5-11 0-0 14, Bender 0-0 0-0 0, Naydenov 0-0 0-0 0, O'Bannon 0-2 2-2 2, George 0-1 0-0 0, N'Sima 1-2 1-2 3. Totals 26-73 15-24 77.


Badiane 4-5 2-4 10, Bing 1-6 5-10 7, Mikulas 3-7 8-8 14, Brown 2-4 3-6 9, Holcomb-Faye 6-10 6-8 20, Duckett 1-2 0-2 2, Foxx 0-1 0-0 0, Hawkins 5-5 4-6 18, Moore 2-8 3-4 7. Totals 24-48 31-48 87.

Halftime: East Carolina 43-38.

3-Point goals: Louisville 10-22 (Northern 4-6, Mohammed 2-4, Gaines 2-5, Brown 2-6, O'Bannen 0-1); East Carolina 8-14 (Hawkins 4-4, Brown 2-3, Holcomb-Faye 2-3, Bing 0-1, Moore 0-3).

Rebounds: Louisville 40 (Myles 9); East Carolina 43 (Moore 12).

Assists: Louisville 14 (Brown 4); East Carolina 15 (Holcomb-Faye 9).

Total Fouls: Louisville: 33, East Carolina 23.

Fouled Out: Mohammed, Gaines, Mikulas.

Technical Fouls: Louisville bench.

Attendance: 7,432.

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

02/23/2007 02:06:01 AM

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