Stop the press!Published 7:35pm Monday, December 5, 2011
GREENVILLE — The Pirates want to rebound from Saturday’s 76-64 loss to Charlotte as fast as possible, but when they take the court tonight in their first ever matchup with the Minutemen they will look slow things down a little bit.
Under the direction of fourth-year coach Derek Kellogg, UMass (6-3, Atlantic 10) leads the nation in steals (101) and features four players that have recorded 10 thefts or more so far this season. Not wanting to play into the Minutemen’s strength, the Pirates (4-3, Conference USA) will look to take the tempo down a notch or two when possible.
“We have to get them into a game that favors us and not get into one that favors them. I think that’s as important as anything,” said East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo.
UMass is guided by speedy sophomore point guard Chaz Williams, who leads the Minutemen with 14.8 points per game and has recorded team-highs in assists (57) and steals (25).
“When he gets into transition he can get into a gap and put some heat on a defense after turnovers and made shots,” Lebo said. “Even when we score, he is going to come at us and we haven’t seen that yet. We tried to simulate that a little bit (Monday) but we haven’t seen that type of speed. We are going to have to be sharp and get back as fast as we can.”
The primary job of defending the 5-9 Hofstra transfer will fall on the shoulders of Miguel Paul, ECU’s junior point guard and leading scorer with 17 points per game.
“He’s quick and he can shoot,” Paul said of Williams. “He’s kind of small but he finishes really well. He’s a good point guard. It will be interesting to see how it goes between us but hopefully I will get the best of him.”
Because the Minutemen play at such a fast pace, Kellogg uses his bench liberally to keep his players fresh. With that in mind, Lebo said that conditioning will play a key role tonight’s contest.
“It’s going to be gigantic. They play a lot of people and the way they play up and down using their speed and athleticism; we just haven’t seen that. You can’t simulate that at practice,” Lebo said. “Conditioning and having some extra guys that can play will be important.”
Thought its speedy point guard may be on the short side the rest of the UMass’ roster has great length and features six players that are 6-8 or bigger, which makes the court get real small when the press is applied.
“Not only are they big but they are long and they all can move,” Lebo said. “They will press us the whole game. They will put a 6-9 (player) on the ball after every made basket and put another big guy at the top of their press. Passing lanes look open but those arms are in them so we will just have to be really sharp attacking that press.”
East Carolina is no stranger to stealing the ball itself as its 10.7 thefts per game is second in the nation.
The Pirates enter today’s contest averaging 14.9 turnovers per game and in order to be successful tonight they must not exceed that number.
“(The Minutemen) are forcing close to 20 turnovers a game and they result in points for them. If we have that many (turnovers) we are going to have a tough night. If we can keep it in the 15 or 16 range we will have a much better shot.”
The key to countering the UMass attack is for ECU to slow down the game and get the ball into the hands of center Darrius Morrow.
“If we spread them out and take our time and make sure Darrius gets post touches we should be do very well.” Paul said.
Getting the ball to Morrow has been key for ECU all season, however, the senior center is coming off of the worst game of his career as he shot 0-8 against Charlotte and finished the game with zero points for the first time in his 98 games as a Pirate.
Morrow, a preseason all-conference selection who is second on the team in scoring with 12 points per game, is not looking to make any major changes in preparation for UMass.
“I just have to come out and do the same thing I do every game,” Morrow said. “I struggled last game. That’s something new to me. I never really struggled like that. I just have to have a short memory of it all and get ready to play.”
After watching film of the Charlotte game, Morrow said one thing he must do a better job of is establishing himself deeper in the post.
“I definitely saw some things I can correct physically on the court and that’s what I’m going to do,” Morrow said. “Coach was telling me that I have to get deeper in the paint when I catch it so I can be able to get it and go to a quick move to beat the double teams.”
After facing a challenging Charlotte frontcourt on Saturday, things won’t get any easier for Morrow tonight as he faces a Minutemen team that is loaded with tall players. However, the Pirates’ big man said he won’t back down from the big challenge.
“I never been one to be intimidated by length, I always feel like I’m the biggest player,” Morrow said. “When someone’s bigger or taller they feel like they have the advantage, but I would like to show them otherwise.”