Pirates on the road to respectability

Published 12:05 pm Tuesday, November 25, 2008

By Staff
Commentary by BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
No matter how you look at it, a loss is a loss and it always hurts, and the closer the final score the more severe the sting.
Though East Carolina fell 77-71 to George Mason on Saturday, a team that made the NCAA tournament last season and the Final Four two years ago, there were plenty of positives to abstract from the game.
Forget wins and losses this year, though a .500 season would be nice, the goal for Pirates’ basketball right now is to become a respectable program that plays hard every night and gives fans their money’s worth when they come see a game. And there is no way any of the 4,781 Purple and Gold supporters that were at Minges Coliseum Saturday left the game wanting a refund.
Heading into the contest, most fans would have signed up for a chance to be tied at 66 with four minutes left to play against the Patriots, which the Pirates were.
It’s true, East Carolina failed to execute its offense down the stretch, but that’s a trait that plagues most young teams. Keep in mind this team lost its three best players from a year as Gabe Blair and John Fields transferred, while Darrel Jenkins graduated.
East Carolina features only two seniors in Sam Hinnant and James Legan, and they both turned in gutsy performances.
Hinnant poured in a game-high 27 points and was 6-13 from downtown, while Legan added eight points and played some solid defense.
There was a lot to like about Saturday’s battle with Mason, a raucous crowd provided a playoff-like backdrop to a wonderful game.
Both teams shot the lights out, and there were big time plays made by big time players, who brought intensity to the court from the opening tip-off to the final buzzer.
The Pirates played toe-to-toe with one of the better teams on its schedule, and though they lost, this game should be a tremendous confidence builder.
For the first 20 minutes of the game East Carolina played as good as you could ask a young group to do.
Despite the gaudy shooting percentage of the Patriots in the first half, 61 percent from three-point land, 46 percent from the floor, ECU showed a real improvement on defense.
The Pirates kept Mason from scoring in the paint, and did a nice job shutting down its dribble penetration.
For the first time this season Brock Young showed some real intensity on the defensive end and did a good job fighting through screens. Young also dished out 10 assists.
The Pirates mixed defenses well, and forced Mason into settling for long jumpers, it just happened to make them, a lot of them. But they were fairly well defended.
You can’t fault coach Mack McCarthy for placing an emphases on defending inside out. It was the right choice.
Heading into Saturday’s game Mason had an awful offensive night in its previous contest as scored a mere 44 points in a loss to Hampton.
No one could have seen that coming. Even when the Pats were bombing threes in the first half, the smart money says they were bound to cool off sooner or later. Which they did, as they shot only 27 percent from beyond the arc in the second half.
Another major concern for the Pirates heading into this season, and still is, is rebounding. Though it seemed like Mason got all the boards, it only out-rebounded the Pirates by a slim 36-35 margin. The Patriots just did a better job getting on the glass late in the game. That’s the difference between a veteran team and a young one.
Undersized power forward Jamar Abrams collected 10 boards, while freshman Darrius Morrow had nine and Hiinnat grabbed five.
The real game within the game for the Pirates this season will be Chad Wynn versus the officials. Wynn has gotten two fouls in the first half in every game he played this season, forcing him to not play as many minutes as he should be.
When Wynn, who had 11 points and four rebounds in only 19 minutes, is in the game East Carolina’s offense runs at a much higher level.
The points come much easier for everybody, and his presence provides a true inside-out balance to the ECU attack.
However, Wynn is just a sophomore and is getting his first significant chance at playing in two years. These things take time.
The road to respectability is a long one, but if the Pirates can continue to match Saturday’s effort at least fans will know they are on the right path.
Brian Haines is a sports writer with the Washington Daily News. You may reach him at 940-4218, or by e-mail at brian@wdnweb.com.