Role reversalPublished 10:47pm Thursday, December 29, 2011
GREENVILLE — All year long the Pirates have been characterized as a defensive team but on Thursday it was a red-hot shooting performance in the second half that allowed East Carolina to fend off N.C. Central 84-76 to win its fourth game in a row.
Junior forward Maurice Kemp was phenomenal as he recorded his second straight double-double by tallying a career-high 14 rebounds to go along with his 14 points, three blocked shots and three drawn charges.
Overall, the Pirates struck with a balanced effort as five players reached double-digit scoring totals with point guard Miguel Paul leading the charge with a career-high 25 points. Following him was shooting guard Shamarr Bowden who tallied 15 points, along with center Darrius Morrow who scored 11 and backup guard Robert Parris-Campbell who chipped in 10.
“It’s been gigantic,” Lebo said of his team’s spread out scoring attack. “I’ve said that we can’t rely on two (scorers), we need to have four score double figures.”
After a wild first half in which there were eight lead changes, the Pirates converted 15 of their 18 free throws to help compensate for their 34 percent shooting from the field to cling to a 39-35 lead over the Eagles (7-7, MEAC) after the first 20 minutes.
East Carolina left its cold touch in the locker room and scorched the nets early in the second stanza as it shot 50 percent from downtown and 47 percent from the floor to rip off a 22-4 run that put the Pirates up 61-42 with 13:20 left in the game.
After NCSU buried a 3 to cut ECU’s lead to 39-38 at the start the half, Bowden answered with a 3 of his own to ignite the run. The Pirates would convert a total of four three-pointers during that stretch with Bowden accounting for two of them.
“Shamarr is a great shooter. Whenever I see any air space between him and his man I give it to him and I have the confidence it’s going down,” Paul said.
As quickly as the Pirates went up, they almost went down as the Eagles soared back into the game with a run of its own outscoring ECU 18-5 on the strength of some big Ebuka Anyaorah buckets that chiseled into the Pirates’ lead and made it a 66-60 ball game. NCSU would come within five points of East Carolina in the second half.
Anyaorah was tremendous for the Eagles as he hit on five of his seven three-point attempts, with most of them being from way beyond the arc, to score 14 points in the first half and tie Paul with a game-high 25 points.
“Ebuka was unbelievable. I recruited him at Auburn, he’s improved tremendously,” Lebo said. “The knock on him coming out of high school was that he wasn’t a particular good shooter. He was raining them tonight; from deep. He singly-handily at times kept them in the game.”
So did the Pirates’ Kemp, as the Q-tip-thin power forward gave a gutsy effort in the paint as he was forced to step up his rebounding effort with Morrow playing only 23 minutes before fouling out late in the second half.
Morrow’s limited play was magnified by the loss of Robert Sampson, who exited the game early in the first half after hurting his ankle for the second time this season. Sampson played a total of two minutes and had one steal.
Helping Kemp pick up the slack in the paint was senior South Carolina transfer Austin Steed who scored five points and grabbed seven rebounds in 19 minutes.
The Pirates will play their final non-conference game of the season on Saturday when they will host UVa.-Wise at 1 p.m.