Bracing for a stormPublished 6:16pm Thursday, January 12, 2012
GREENVILLE — After two straight losses the Pirates will look to stop the bleeding on Saturday when they return to action from a week-long hiatus to host Tulsa in a matinee matchup that begins at 1 p.m.
East Carolina (9-6, 0-2) is still searching for its first Conference USA win of the season and will brace for a storm on Saturday as it clashes with a Golden Hurricane (8-9, 1-2) team that features three players 6-11 or bigger on its roster.
Size came into play for the Pirates in their last game as Central Florida was able to control the paint, where it outscored ECU 50-30.
“They’re going to look at us and go right at us inside,” East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo said. “That’s just something that we’re going to try and hide as much as we can but people are going to look at us and say ‘that’s where we need to go.’”
Tulsa, which picked up its first C-USA win on Wednesday when it topped UTEP 59-48, boasts a frontcourt that features 6-11, 247-pound senior center Steven Idlet, 6-11.5, 226-pound sophomore forward Kodi Maduka and can bring 7-2, 265-pound freshman center David Wishon of the bench if coach Doug Wojcik chooses to.
Tulsa is third in the conference in blocked shots per game with 5.1 and is led by Maduka’s 1.8 per night. Maduka, who is scoring 7.7 points a game, is tied with East Carolina forward Maurice Kemp as the conference’s ninth-best rebounder pulling down seven per contest
With a 9.8 points per game average, Idlet is Tulsa’s third-leading scorer and is grabbing 5.4 boards a night.
Together Idlet and Maduka will present a big challenge to East Carolina center Darrius Morrow, who stands at 6-8, 245 pounds, and Kemp, who is 6-8, 185.
Aside from leading the Pirates in rebounding, Kemp is posting 10.9 points per game, while Morrow is averaging 13.6 points and 6.1 rebounds a night. Morrow said the key to combating the Tulsa frontcourt is for the team to elevate its intensity.
“It’s all effort. They might be bigger and stronger but we have an advantage too with our quickness,” Morrow said. “Playing against bigger guys you have to use your quickness to maneuver around them. We can use dribble moves because big guys usually can’t guard away from the basket.”
While the matchups in the paint will be key, there will also be great competition in the backcourt. East Carolina is led in scoring and assists by junior point guard Miguel Paul who leads C-USA in assists with 5.7 per game and is the conference’s third-leading scorer with 16.1 points per contest.
Tulsa sophomore Jordan Clarkson is eighth in the conference with 15.0 points per game while is 2.4 assists a night is a team-best.
For the Pirates, the key to being successful is keeping their shooting percentage above 40 percent. If their guards can extend the Golden Hurricane defense by making some shots, it will take some of the pressure off their inside game.
“Offensively, we can’t expect to beat teams in our league by shooting in the 30s from the perimeter. We have a hard time manufacturing anything easy, so we have to shoot the ball really well,” Lebo said. “We have to be able to add a player or two that can consistently shoot the ball. We know we have two guys there (Morrow and Paul) but who’s going to be the third and fourth (scorers)? Shamarr (Bowden) and Paris (Roberts-Campbell) have to be good making shots for us.
“Then, at the four position we have to be able to stretch the defense. When Kemp and Robert (Sampson) are in the game they have a big guy on them being able to shoot the ball from the perimeter would open up a lot of things for us.”