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Inside Game Day
Wednesday, January 25, 2012

By Al Myatt

Southern Miss prolongs ECU's struggle

Al Myatt
2012 Bonesville.net
All rights reserved.

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GREENVILLE It's been said that there are lies, damn lies and statistics, the inference being that statistics can be misleading.

That wasn't the case as Southern Miss won its 18th game of the season, 72-60, over East Carolina in Williams Arena of Minges Coliseum on Wednesday night.

The Pirates avoided the slow start that characterized their mode of operation early in the Conference USA schedule but with 2:35 left in the first half, ECU had made two of nine 3-point attempts while the Golden Eagles had dropped five of eight. Southern Miss was 8 for 8 at the free throw line while the Pirates were 1 for 3. ECU was getting outrebounded 26-12.

At that moment in time, the statistics were very truthful and it was no mystery as to why early Pirate leads of 13-7 and 15-9 had turned into a 33-23 deficit.

ECU coach Jeff Lebo didn't know Wednesday afternoon if he would be able to coach because a left eye infection had limited his vision. The condition cleared up and Lebo wore glasses for the game. I was wondering if he might go for the Pirate look with an eye patch but he wouldn't have liked much of what he saw either way. As former ECU football coach Steve Logan might put it, Stevie Wonder could see the issues the Pirates are facing.

The consistent ills in an 0-6 C-USA start for ECU can be traced to the limitations of personnel. It starts with a lack of frontcourt depth. The Pirates lost 6-foot-8 South Carolina transfer Austin Steed when his reported GPA of 2.85 was not good enough for him to continue his graduate studies. He became ineligible at semester break. Robert Sampson continues to struggle with areas of the game that require touch because of a thumb brace on his left shooting hand. Maurice Kemp, who is 6-8 but weighs just 180 pounds is a little "light in the tail" as Lebo describes it, which limits him physically inside.

Yasin Kolo, a 6-10 freshman, went out early with a foot condition.

The frontcourt deficiencies resulted in 40 minutes for senior center Darrius Morrow, who provided 14 points and 11 rebounds in another workmanlike effort. At this point, the question is who can Lebo sub for him?

The manner in which teams usually compensate for lack of size include outrunning opponents or extending defensive pressure, neither of which have been viable solutions.

Pirate point guard Miguel Paul is a jet on the dribble but the players filling the lanes in fast break situations don't beat opposing defenses down the floor. Lebo said foes are aware of taking that area of attack away from ECU.

Lack of depth is a factor that eliminates the defensive pressure option for lengthy periods. It's simply too exhausting for the Pirates to play 94 feet for 40 minutes.

ECU has sought to overcome its weaknesses with good shooting. Other than Paul's 3-for-4 effort from behind the arc on Wednesday night, the Pirates were 1-for-10 from distance. That won't get it done.

The Pirates made 52.9 percent of their field goal attempts in a 78-76 loss at Southern Miss in the league opener on Jan. 4. ECU finished 20 of 47 for 42.6 percent in the sequel at home.

"I just thought we were fortunate that they missed shots," said USM coach Larry Eustachy, who said this is the best team he's had in eight seasons with the Golden Eagles.

As ECU slipped to 9-10 overall, the caliber of competition should be taken into consideration. Southern Miss is balanced with five players averaging in double figures. Five scored in double figures against the Pirates but it wasn't all of the same five who lead team scoring for the season. That means a lot more for opposing coaches to deal with than ECU is presenting at the moment. Eustachy said the defensive focus was primarily on Paul, who had 21 points, and Morrow. Erin Straughn helped ECU make a mild rally in the second half and assumed the third scoring spot, often manned by Kemp. Straughn had 14 points. Kemp managed but two.

The Pirates' personnel isn't going to change until more size and shooting ability became available next season.

ECU travels to Alabama-Birmingham for an 8 p.m. game Saturday and at least no one seems to be saying that something can't be salvaged from the season.

As Morrow alluded, ECU was 11-9 on Jan. 26 last season but went on to finish 18-16 for its first winning record since 1996-97. He made the point that this year's record is comparable.

Paul said he has no regrets about transferring from Missouri, although the Tigers are currently 18-2 and ranked No. 2 nationally.

"It's tough on everybody," Lebo said of the six-game losing streak. "We just need one win to feel good about ourselves. ... There's no magic dust we can sprinkle on them. We've just got to keep working."

BOX SCORE

SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI 72, EAST CAROLINA 60

Date: Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012
Place: Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum, Greenville, NC
Attendance: 4,235
Records: ECU 9-10 (0-6 Conference USA); USM 18-3 (5-1)

SCORE BY PERIODS     1   2  FINAL
Southern Miss       38  34  -  72
East Carolina       23  37  -  60

SOUTHERN MISS GOLDEN EAGLES
 # PLAYER                    FG   3PT    FT  R PTS MIN
.........................    ..   ...    ..  . ... ...
24 Mills, Jonathan..... f  5-10   0-0   3-4  8  13  23
00 Page, LaShay........ g   3-7   2-5   4-4  1  12  40
01 Bolden, Maurice..... g   3-7   0-1   2-2 11   8  30
12 McGill, Rashard..... g   0-3   0-0   0-0  0   0   7
23 Johnson, Angelo..... g   1-5   0-1   0-0  5   2  29
02 Dodson, Darnell.......   4-9   2-3   0-0  6  10  14
05 Watson, Neil..........   4-7   1-2   2-3  2  11  33
10 Jenkins, Cedric.......   2-4   2-2   0-0  6   6  12
15 Pelham, Torye.........   1-3   0-0  8-10  2  10  12
TEAM.....................                    2
TOTALS................... 23-55  7-14 19-23 43  72 200
PERCENT..................  41.8  50.0  82.6

EAST CAROLINA PIRATES
 # PLAYER                    FG   3PT    FT  R PTS MIN
.........................    ..   ...    ..  . ... ...
01 Morrow, Darrius..... f  6-10   0-0   2-6 11  14  40
12 Sampson, Robert..... f   0-0   0-0   0-0  1   0  15
00 Paul, Miguel........ g  5-11   3-4   8-9  1  21  30
20 Bowden, Shamarr..... g   1-6   1-4   2-4  1   5  29
23 Straughn, Erin...... g   6-8   0-2   2-3  4  14  34
02 Kemp, Maurice.........   0-3   0-1   2-2  1   2  19
11 Gaines, Corvonn.......   1-4   0-1   0-0  3   2  15
22 CAMPBELL, Paris.......   1-5   0-2   0-0  1   2  12
35 Morales, Darius.......   0-0   0-0   0-0  0   0   6
TEAM.....................                    3
TOTALS................... 20-47  4-14 16-24 26  60 200
PERCENT..................  42.6  28.6  66.7

Fouled out: None
Technical Fouls: None
Officials: Les Jones, Jeff Smith, J.B. Caldwell

E-mail Al Myatt.

PAGE UPDATED 01/26/12 04:49 AM.

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