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Friday, December 16, 2011

By Al Myatt

Pirates juggle exams, game preparations

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

One of the challenges of being a student-athlete is balancing academics and athletics. That's especially true during the exam period in college basketball.

East Carolina basketball coach Jeff Lebo has been practicing his team in preparation for tonight's 7 p.m. game with UNC-Greensboro at the Greensboro Coliseum. The squad has been working out at 9:30 a.m. this week and, even at that hour, not all of the players have been able to attend.

"We've got finals all over the place," Lebo said Wednesday.

The Pirates coach said there were still several players who had exams following Thursday's morning workout.

"It's just hit or miss, here or there," Lebo said of trying to maintain some consistent developmental sessions with his team as the fall semester wraps up.

ECU hasn't played since a 63-58 loss at home to Massachusetts on Dec. 6. The Pirates fell behind by 22 points in the first half against the Minutemen and rallied within a point in the closing minutes. ECU forced 24 turnovers but made just 9 of 23 free throws, a dismal 39.1 percent at the line.

Poor shooting has been a recurring problem in a 4-4 start for the Pirates.

"We've been trying to shore some things up and shooting is one of the areas we've struggled with the most," Lebo said. "Defensively, we've been trying to continue doing what we've been doing, revisiting a lot of things."

This week, the focus shifted to preparing for the 2-8 Spartans, who will be playing their first game under interim head coach Wes Miller, a former North Carolina player, like Lebo. Former UNCG coach Mike Dement stepped down following a 75-60 loss at Florida State on Sunday. The change was reported as a mutual agreement between Dement and UNCG athletic director Kim Record.

Lebo wasn't sure how much tweaking Miller might do in terms of Dement's systems.

"We can only prepare for what we've seen them do," said the ECU coach.

Lebo noted that the Spartans have faced a challenging schedule that has included losses to the Seminoles, Tennessee and Georgetown.

"One of their best performances came against Florida State," Lebo said. "They were close until the 10-minute mark. They're like us they've had a hard time putting the ball in the basket."

UNCG was 22 of 62 from the floor in Tallahassee for 35.5 percent. The Spartans went 5-for-23 behind the arc, 21.7 percent.

"Trevis Simpson (6-foot-4 sophomore) can flat-out score the ball," Lebo said.

Simpson has averaged 15.2 points in 25.6 minutes per game.

"They've got some experienced post guys," Lebo said in reference to Aaron Bracket (6-8, Sr.) and Aloysius Henry (6-10, Sr.).

UNCG's point guard is Drew Parker, a 6-1 sophomore.

"One thing they do is they really rebound the ball offensively," Lebo said.

Derrell Armstrong (6-1, Jr.) and David Williams (6-6, So.) have been the Spartans' leaders on the offensive glass where tonight's hosts are averaging 16.4 rebounds per game.

"They've done a lot of different things defensively," Lebo said.

Injury-wise for ECU, sophomore forward Robert Sampson is still dealing with a thumb ailment.

Lebo played in the ACC Tournament for the Tar Heels twice in the Greensboro Coliseum in 1986 and 1988. He said he also brought teams into the building when he was coaching Chattanooga in the Southern Conference earlier in his career.

The Spartans have averaged 3,167 in attendance in their two home games to date. UNCG is 1-1 in those games. The Spartans also played N.C. A&T in the spacious structure although the Aggies were the home team for an 87-65 win over UNCG on Nov. 28, the start of the Spartans' current 5-game losing streak.

Tonight's foes have a common opponent in Appalachian State. UNCG lost 78-64 in Boone on Dec.1. The Pirates topped the Mountaineers 67-47 on Nov. 22 in the NBA Bobcats' arena in Charlotte.

E-mail Al Myatt

PAGE UPDATED 01/03/12 02:39 AM.

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