Pirates drive for fivePublished 7:48pm Friday, December 30, 2011
GREENVILLE — The drive for five takes place today for the Pirates as they attempt to win their fifth straight game against Uva.-Wise in a New Year’s Eve matinee matchup at 1 p.m. inside Minges Coliseum.
There is little time to rest for East Carolina (8-4, Conference USA), who after beating N.C. Central 84-76 on Thursday night, had only one day to prepare for today’s contest with the Cavaliers.
UVa.-Wise hails from the NAIA and totes a 5-9 record but on Thursday night ECU coach Jeff Lebo urged his team to not look past its opponent.
“I told my guys they have to prepare like a pro. They have one day to get ready but don’t think you’re going to walk out on the court and rollover this team,” Lebo said. “Virginia-Wise almost beat Wofford. Wofford has a good basketball team and has been to the (NCAA) tournament the last two years and Wofford beat (UVa.-Wise) by three. A whopping three points.
“I tell them, ‘The best team doesn’t always win the game of basketball. You better bring it. You better be ready to play, you better be aggressive and be at practice (Friday) and ready to play at one o’clock on Saturday.’”
East Carolina has been the best team in each of its last four matchups thanks to a more balanced attack on offense and a rise in shooting percentage, which has not dipped below 40 percent during its current winning streak.
On Thursday, the Pirates saw five players reach the double-digit scoring mark as Miguel Paul tallied a career-high 25 points, Shamarr Bowden netted 15, Maurice Kemp recorded 14, Darrius Morrow scored 11 despite foul trouble and Paris Roberts-Campbell tallied added 10.
Paul enters today’s matchup leading East Carolina with 16.3 points and 5.8 assists per game to go along with a team-high 25 steals.
Morrow, who moved into sixth-place on the school’s all-time scoring list on Thursday, is second on the team in scoring with 12.9 points per game, while Bowden is third with 9.4 points per night and Kemp is fourth with 9.2.
The Cavaliers feature three players that are scoring 10 points or more per contest and are led by 6-7 senior forward Josh Jordan who is averaging 16.9 points and 10.4 rebounds a game. Senior Guard Travis Berry is right behind him with 16.6 points per game average and is trailed by senior forward Norris Gaskins who is posting 11.3 points per contest.
SAMPSON’S STATUS UNCERTAIN
Thursday’s win over NCSU was costly for the Pirates as sophomore forward Robert Sampson was forced to leave the game after playing only two minutes due to an ankle injury.
Sampson, a 6-8, 215-pound forward who has been labeled as the team’s best post defender by Lebo, has been playing with a cast on his shooting hand since tearing ligaments in his thumb in the fifth game of the year against Chowan and has now injured the same ankle that got hurt during the Pirates win over Greensboro on Dec. 16.
“We had Sampson go down again with an ankle injury, I feel so bad for him. It’s always something for him,” Lebo said on Thursday. “You don’t have him out there and he’s one of your best defensive guys, your best shot-blocker, your energy guy and it’s been frustrating.”
On the season Sampson is averaging 4.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
THREE THE HARD WAY
Starting the last four games at power forward in place of the injured Sampson, JUCO transfer forward Maurice Kemp has made the most of his enhanced minutes as he has averaged 14.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per contest during that time.
Despite standing at a pencil-thin 6-8, 185-pounds, Kemp’s determination on the glass has allowed him to become the team’s leading rebounder with 6.6 boards per night while his quick hands has enabled him to rank second on the squad in steals with 17.
Lebo constantly praises the athletic Kemp’s ability to score in a variety of ways, however, there is one area of his game that has been missing all season long. Despite showing a solid shooting touch from beyond the arc in practice, Kemp is yet to convert a three-point attempt in a game and heads into today’s matchup 0 for 14 from downtown.
On Thursday, Kemp went 0 for 2 from three-point land against NCSU and showed signs that his cold streak is getting in his head by visibly reacting on the court after each miss.
Lebo said that when one finally goes through the nylon it will be a joyous occasion.
“He hasn’t made a three all year but if you watch him in practice in the drills he’ll make 12, 13, 14 in a row,” Lebo said after Thursday’s win over NCSU. “We might just run off the bench and all of us as a group get a technical foul if one goes in and just run out and tackle him.”