Pirates on a rollPublished 6:39pm Wednesday, December 28, 2011
GREENVILLE — A long layoff combined with some roster juggling has propelled the Pirates to a three-game winning streak, which they will look to extend to four tonight when they host N.C. Central at 7 p.m.
Erratic shooting and unreliable contributions from players not named Darrius Morrow or Miguel Paul have plagued East Carolina over the first eight games of the season as it went into the finals break with a 4-4 record. However, since that 10-day hiatus the Pirates have been remarkably consistent and have seemingly silenced their shooting woes to piece together a three-game winning streak and bring a 7-4 record into tonight’s matchup against N.C. Central (7-6, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference).
East Carolina came out of that 10-day stretch with a revamped starting lineup that moved junior Shamarr Bowden into the starting shooting guard spot in place of the more point-guard-minded Corvonn Gaines while athletic JUCO transfer forward Maurice Kemp got the starting nod at power forward in place of Robert Sampson, who has had to deal with torn ligaments to his thumb on his shooting hand since the fifth game of the season.
So far the lineup shuffle has had a positive affect on East Carolina as it shot over 40 percent in each of its last three contests, something that it failed to do during its three-game losing streak leading up to the 10-day break.
“We’re getting better,” said East Carolina’s second-year coach Jeff Lebo. “I think there’s some confidence involved in that. After the Greensboro game we came out and practiced really well and I think Kemp and Shamarr Bowden have helped us offensively.”
Bowden made three of his five three-point attempts and went 4-4 from the free throw line to score 13 points in ECU’s 69-55 victory over Gardner-Webb the last time out and has scored 10 or more points in five of his last six games.
“He is shooting the ball really well and is doing the little things that I think he struggled with early: knowing when to shoot, knowing when to pass, knowing when the play is going inside,” Lebo said. “The right decisions from him are key.”
Bowden is averaging 8.9 points per game, which is third on the team behind Paul (15.5 ppg) and Morrow (13.1 ppg).
Morrow, who leads ECU with 6.3 rebounds a night, needs only two points to pass former teammate Brock Young who is sixth on the school’s all-time scoring list 1,232 points during.
The play of Kemp, a 6-8, 185-pound transfer from Miami Dade College, has been a big boost for the Pirates. Against Gardner-Webb the explosive forward had his best game as a Pirate as he reached double-digits in scoring for the fourth straight game tallying 18 points, 13 rebounds and four steals.
On the season, Kemp is fourth in the team in scoring with 8.7 points per game while his 5.9 rebounds per contest and 16 steals are both second-best totals.
“It’s been gigantic,” Lebo about the play of Kemp. “We need somebody who can score and he can score in a variety of ways.”
Kemp was originally slated to bounce back and fourth between the small and power forward positions but the injury to Sampson, coupled with Kemp’s stronger grasp of the four spot, has cemented the junior at power forward.
Eventually, Lebo would like to experiment with both forwards on the court at the same time with Sampson at the three and Kemp at the four.
“We’re going to work on that a little bit. We thought we could get them on the court with Kemp at the three and at the four, but he’s much more comfortable just playing the (power forward) spot. So we’re going to try and slowly give Robert some responsibility at the three which will allow them to be on the floor together a little bit,” Lebo said.
Kemp said the drop in responsibility has led to his increase in production.
“It’s actually helped a lot, now I can just focus on one position,” Kemp said. “I don’t have to think about what I’m supposed to do at this spot or that spot.”
Body-wise, the lanky junior is better suited to play small forward. However, Kemp uses his speed to combat bigger players.
“I played at the four last year at JUCO and I played against some real good players. They try to beat me up down there but I try to use my quickness to my advantage and my length.”
As for Sampson, the 6-8, 215-pound sophomore who is averaging 4.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, playing with a brace on his hand is just something he will have to deal with for the foreseeable future.
“It’s kind of tough to shoot with it on but I have to keep on getting used to it. I try to shoot everyday and just get back in a groove,” Sampson said. “They told me in about six weeks it will fully heal and right now I’m doing a lot of treatment on it.”
The Pirates will need all hands on deck to try and slow down N.C. Central’s Dominique Sutton. The 6-5 senior transfer from Kansas State has been filling up the box score each night as he leads the Eagles in points per game (16.1), rebounds (7.9) and steals (33).
“He’s kind of an undersized post guy. He can rebound, put the ball on the floor a little bit and he scores around the rim area,” Lebo said. “He played a lot of minutes and scored a lot of points at Kansas State. He was a factor at that next level so we will have our work cutout for us trying to defend him and keep him off the glass.”
The Eagles, who beat Prairie View A&M 69-58 their last time out, enter the contest tallying 77.7 points per game, and aside from Sutton, have also gotten a lot of scoring from guards Landon Clement and Ray Willis who are averaging 16 and 15 points per game, respectively.