ECU ready to take on N.C. State

Published 4:29 pm Wednesday, December 17, 2008

By Staff
By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — By now everybody knows that with East Carolina’s 97-53 win over UNC-Greensboro on Saturday, the Pirates (8-1) are off to their best start since the 2003-04 season.
What most fans don’t know about the ’03-’04 squad is that after its sizzling start, ECU took a nose dive and lost 11 of its next 12 games, including a stretch of eight defeats in a row.
The team finished one game under .500 with an overall record of 13-14 and went 5-11 in Conference USA.
So while the Pirates are happy to be off to their best start in four years, let’s just hope the comparisons to the ’03-’04 end with the starts.
Jumping to 9-1 will be an extremely difficult task as ECU will face its in-state rival N.C. State on the road. While fans might not remember the fate of the ’03-’04 Pirates, there isn’t a fan around that could forget East Carolina’s 75-69 win over the Wolfpack in Minges Coliseum last season.
It’s also a good bet that N.C. State hasn’t forgotten either.
After battling for 38 minutes, then-junior Sam Hinnant drilled a three-pointer to lift ECU to a 67-64 lead. The Pirates’ advantage was preserved when Cory Farmer stole the ensuing in-bounds pass and scored a quick layup.
After the Farmer bucket, point guard Darryl Jenkins sealed the deal with a few late free throws.
While the game was filled with many heroics, East Carolina coach Mack McCarthy said what he remembers most about the game was the fans.
The Pirates win over N.C. State was a marquee victory for McCarthy, who at that time was still carrying the associate coach label.
When Hinnant knocked down that late 3, he also more than likely knocked off that prefix for the Pirates’ skipper.
McCarthy said that the win didn’t alter his coaching perspective on the season, and that he and his staff took the same approach as a tenured coach.
But it’s a safe bet that the victory over the Wolfpack, along the team’s earlier win over George Mason, carried a lot of weight when it was time for East Carolina athletic director Terry Holland to make a decision on the Pirates’ coach.
A year later it looks like Holland made the right decision, as McCarthy and his young Pirates have been on a tear lately, and head into this game having won five straight.
McCarthy said the key to last year’s upset over the Pack was that the Pirates played with a lot of energy and mixed up their defenses.
The ECU coach said in order for his team to duplicate last season’s success it will have to continue its hot shooting, stay out of foul trouble and not be intimidated by a hostile environment at the Reynolds Coliseum.
The Wolfpack are led by seniors Ben McCauley and Courtney Fells, along with junior Brandon Costner.
McCauley, a center, and Costner a forward, are both 6-9 and form what might be one of the toughest frontcourt tandems ECU will see all season.
McCauley leads the team with 15 points and nine rebounds a night, while Costner adds 11 points per contest along seven boards. Fells is a strong veteran guard who puts up 13 points per game.
The Wolfpack may be without point guard Farnold Degand, who has be suspended by N.C. State’s third-year coach Sidney Lowe for disciplinary reasons.
Gone from this year’s in-state rematch will also be J.J. Hickson, who bolted from the Pack for the NBA draft.
The rumor is N.C. State views his departure as addition by subtraction. Hickson was known for dominating the ball, and the word around Raleigh is that his absence has created a better team atmosphere.
McCarthy also noted the team’s improvement in chemistry this season as one of a few new challenges presented in this year’s match up.
McCarthy said the Wolfpack do a good job of manipulating matchups, and bring a fierce defense to the table.
The Pirates are going to have to answer the challenge of the Wolfpack’s frontcourt with an intense effort on the glass, and continue to scorch the nets if they want to pull of another upset over their ACC rivals.