Pirates powered past PoniesPublished 10:02pm Wednesday, February 1, 2012
GREENVILLE — After losing six straight games the Pirates have done an about-ship and with their 62-43 victory over Southern Methodist on Wednesday have now won two consecutive Conference USA games.
East Carolina (11-10, 2-6) received a balanced offensive effort and was able to take control of the game early thanks to a 19-5 run midway through the first half that was fueled by the hot shooting of Maurice Kemp, Shamarr Bowden and Darrius Morrow.
That trio accounted for 23 of the Pirates’ 31 first-half points and allowed them to take a commanding 31-17 halftime lead over an SMU team that struggled to produce points without its leading scorer Robert Nyakundi (15.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg), who was a late scratch due to a sore hamstring.
“In the first few minutes of the game we were scoring but we weren’t getting any stops,” Kemp said. “So in the huddle (ECU Coach Jeff) Lebo got on us and told us we got to buckle down on defense and that’s what we did.”
After nine minutes of play the Mustangs (10-12, 2-6) tied the Pirates at 12 on an Aliaksei Patsevich bucket. From that point on East Carolina caught fire on offense and smothered SMU on defense to close out the half on a 19-5 run that was powered by two Bowden 3s, a Morrow 3-point play and a viscous two-handed put-back dunk by Kemp off of a Miguel Paul missed layup.
Kemp finished the half with nine points and ended the game with 11. Morrow ended the first half with five points, eight boards, three assists and one blocked shot. Morrow, who got whistled for three first-half fouls, would finish with the contest eight points and nine rebounds. Bowden scored each of his nine points in the first half.
“It’s a good win for our team and I’m proud of them,” Lebo said. “I thought we did a lot of nice things out there tonight: rebounding the ball and getting high percentage shots and we had good patience … (The Mustangs) not having their best player was also obviously a big factor in the game, let’s not kid ourselves.”
The Pirates won two key statistical battles as they outrebounded SMU 33-22 and made 10 of their 28 three-pointers (35.7 percent) while the Mustangs were ice cold without their sharp-shooting forward and went 0-11from downtown.
In the second half Robert Sampson stole the show as he recovered from a missed breakaway dunk in which he was also whistle for a technical for hanging on the rim and erupted for 13 a game-high 13 points.
Sampson, who has battled a wrist injury for most of the season, ended the game going 3-for-3 from beyond the arc and pulled down six boards.
“I’ve just been working hard in practice and shooting up a lot of shots trying to get my hand back to its normal self,” Sampson said. “We’ve all been working hard in practice trying to get it to click and now its finally clicking.”
The Mustangs were led by Jalen Jones who scored 11 and Shawn Williams who added eight.
East Carolina will be back in action on Saturday when it plays the second game of a three-game homestand against Rice at 7 p.m.