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Inside Game Day
Saturday, December 15, 2012

By Al Myatt

 

Pirate performance not half bad

By Al Myatt
2012 Bonesville.net
All rights reserved.

Replay Jeff Lebo & Roy Williams Post-game Audio...

CHAPEL HILL East Carolina senior point guard Miguel Paul and his teammates were disappointed after a 93-87 loss to nationally-ranked North Carolina at the Smith Center on Saturday.

"It's good that we showed that we can play with them but I know me and Akeem (Richmond) and the other guards and the bigs, we were talking about coming here and winning the game," said the Missouri transfer after ECU fell to 6-2.

A victory appeared out of the question with the Pirates trailing 42-26 at the half, but ECU created some fleeting moments of suspense by scoring 61 points in the second 20 minutes. The Pirates whacked an 18-point deficit with just over seven minutes left down to four points twice in the final minute before the Tar Heels were able to breathe a sigh of relief at the final buzzer.

"The first half, shots weren't falling," Richmond said. "I missed a few, Paris (Roberts-Campbell) missed a few, all of us missed a few that we normally make."

ECU made just 10 of 33 field goal attempts (30.3 percent) in the first half but knocked down 18 of 34 for 52.9 percent after the locker room break.

The 3-point accuracy improved as well. The Pirates dropped just four of 14 from behind the arc (28.6 percent) in the first half before going six of 13 (46.2 percent) in the second half. Richmond led the surge, connecting on five of eight from long distance after intermission.

The free throw situation dramatically improved as well. After going two for four before the break, ECU was 19 for 23 at the line afterwards.

Did former North Carolina marksman and Pirates coach Jeff Lebo, who received a standing ovation when the teams were introduced, conduct a crash shooting course at halftime?

No. It was more like the Pirates merely found their comfort zone.

"The second half we relaxed and shots started falling," said Richmond, a former ball boy at the Dean Dome, who totaled a team-high 17 points. "Things started changing."

As ECU came barreling down the stretch, it was a tough call for the crowd announced at 19,147 to decide whether to beat the postgame traffic or see how the building drama would resolve.

The Pirates trailed 88-77 when Kinston product Reggie Bullock of UNC fouled out with 49 seconds to go. Two free throws by Paul and a pair of threes by Richmond sliced the lead to four points with 27 seconds left. Richmond was called for a foul that produced two free throws by Dexter Strickland for a 6-point margin.

Marshall Guilmette scored on Paul's eighth assist to get ECU within four points again with 16 seconds remaining. Leslie McDonald got a feed from J.P. Tokoto for the Heels' last hoop.

"We opened the floor up more for me to penetrate," said Paul, who had 13 of his 15 points and six assists in the second half. "I'm not being cocky. It's hard for anybody to stay in front of me with one screen. That gives everybody a lot of open looks. I think we just calmed down a little more in the second half."

Each team had five players in double-figure scoring. Kemp had 15 points and 14 rebounds. Robert Sampson had 10 points and eight rebounds for ECU. Guilmette had 10 points and three assists.

"I thought that we battled hard," Lebo said." ... We shot the ball very well in the second half to make things interesting. ... Coach (Roy) Williams has a young team and I've got a little bit more experienced guys. I like experienced guys."

The second half generated optimism for the gold-clad Pirates, who had to manage without Erin Straughn, a versatile 6-foot-6 senior who said he may be four weeks from returning from a leg injury.

"I'd have to say that any team that scores 61 points in the second half against North Carolina at North Carolina has a lot of potential," said ECU athletic director Terry Holland, who guided Virginia to a pair of Final Fours. "I think that's where we are right now. We've got that potential and we know what we can do. It's just a matter of being able to keep working and doing it for longer periods of time."

The Pirates host Gardner-Webb on Tuesday at 7 p.m., another step in preparation for the Conference USA opener at Memphis on Jan. 9.

For the last 20 minutes on Saturday, ECU did not look like a program that should have been blocked for an all-sports membership in the Big East, based on its competitive level in basketball.

"You've got to have more than one game to make a statement," Holland said. "Obviously, our RPI is as high as many of the schools in the league. It's not really a matter of that. If you are going to add someone, you always want it to be someone who brings value.

"It's not a matter of 'Are we comparable to those teams?' It's a matter of 'Are we better?' We're probably not yet but we're going to get better."

In terms of key qualities like size and quickness, ECU didn't appear to be outmanned. UNC (8-2) was unable to pull away as it did against Mississippi State and Alabama-Birmingham. ECU's stretch run got the attention of an ESPNU audience and also stoked confidence within Lebo's program.

"We can play with anybody in America," Paul said. "We've just got to stop having slow starts."

Lebo, who didn't hurt his chances of returning to his alma mater when Williams retires, looks at future scenarios with caution.

"It'll hopefully give us some confidence," he said of the manner in which Saturday's matchup unfolded. "Basketball is a funny game. You can look one way one day and turn around and play two days later and not look like the same team. So hopefully we can build with this. This was obviously big for our university and big for our program."

GAME SUMMARY
North Carolina 93, East Carolina 87
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Date: Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012
Facility: Smith Center
Attendance: 19,147
Records: ECU 6-2; NC 8-2

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SCORE BY PERIODS 1 2 FINAL
East Carolina 26 61 87
North Carolina 42 51 93

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PAGE UPDATED 12/16/12 04:59 AM.

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