Lebo heads back to Chapel HillPublished 5:10pm Friday, December 14, 2012
GREENVILLE — The Pirates will make their first ever trip to the Dean E. Smith center to play North Carolina for only the third time in school history today when the two teams tip off at noon.
The contest will serve as a homecoming of sorts for East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo who played for the Tar Heels from 1985-89 under legendary coach Dean Smith, while current Tar Heels coach Roy Williams was an assistant there.
“It’s exciting to go back and it’s exciting for our players,” Lebo said. “To give them an opportunity to play on that kind of stage in that kind of atmosphere I think will be really helpful to our team and our players. I think it will be something they will really remember. They are looking forward to this game.”
It was on the strength of Lebo’s relationship with Williams that the Pirates received an invite to Chapel Hill. Lebo said the Heels’ coach has been “gracious” to him throughout his coaching career, but that he did not expect the same kind of courtesy once the bright lights come on.
“I’ll never forget that two days after I got fired (from Auburn) he called me up and said, ‘Hey, why don’t you come down to Chapel Hill and bring your family and watch practice. I don’t have a job for you, but you can watch practice and stay around the game until you get your feet under you.’ Luckily, I got back pretty quick, but that meant a lot to me. I’ll never forget that,” Lebo said. “That’s him. That’s who he is and what he does. He’s had a lot of former guys come back and play there. Not a lot of us have won there. He doesn’t treat you too good once the game starts.”
The Pirates (6-1) have never beaten a ranked opponent on the road and are coming off a 111-59 thumping of St. Andrews 11 days ago in which they converted a school-record 18 three-pointers.
ECU is going to need that kind of sharpshooting again today as they face No. 21 ranked North Carolina (7-2), whose only two losses of the year came at the hands of Butler and Indiana.
The Pirates have been led this season by forward Maurice Kemp, who averages a Conference USA fourth-best 16.7 points per game and is pulling down 8.7 boards per night.
The Heels feature four players with double-digit scoring averages. Forward James McAdoo is the team’s top scorer and rebounder and tallies 15 points and 8.4 boards a night.
The key factor in today’s game will be how ECU point guard Miguel Paul and the rest of the Pirates handle UNC’s press.
“They’re athletic, they’re going to pressure and get out in passing lanes,” Lebo said of UNC. “They’ve trapped a little bit more lately and I’ve seen them trap in the past … They turn you over and then if they get you in transition, they’re athleticism and ability to finish in the break is where they score a ton of their points.”