ECU hoops: It is what it is

Published 11:08 pm Wednesday, January 21, 2009

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — Saturday night’s 88-67 loss to Conference USA foe UTEP left many of the 6,021 East Carolina fans in attendance scratching their heads as they walked out of Minges Coliseum, and for good reason.
The Pirates once again got off to a slow start as they fell behind 15-4 to the Miners in the first five minutes of the game, and at one point were down 30-13 in the first half.
However, ECU showed heart when they wiped out that 17 point deficit and cut UTEP’s lead to 39-36 with a little over a minute left before halftime.
The second half was equally intriguing. The Pirates began the second stanza down 41-36, but allowed UTEP to take a 50-39 advantage in the first four minutes.
It appeared ECU was ready to pack it in, but it didn’t fold and, instead scored the next nine points to make it a 50-48 ball game … Then they packed it in.
Led by a phenomenal effort by super sophomore Randy Culpepper, the Miners rattled off 16 unanswered points to hand the Pirates their second straight conference loss.
After jumping out to an 8-1 start East Carolina (9-7, 1-2) has now lost six of its last seven games as it heads for Houston to play the Cougars Wednesday.
So what does all this mean? Honestly, not much. When it comes to ECU hoops this season it just is what it is.
The Pirates are a young, marginally talented team with no winning tradition. All fans can do is hope second-year coach Mack McCarthy is taking them in the right direction … Which it appears he is.
East Carolina hasn’t had a winning season since the Joe Dooley-led squad went 17-10 (9-7) in the 1996-97 season, but could change that if it wins seven of its next 13 games. It will be a challenge, but not impossible.
Six more wins would put the Pirates at .500 for the first time in seven years.
It’s all about baby steps, and during dark times you got to find a light wherever you can.
This is a team with only two seniors, 10 scholarship players and two juniors in Grayson Sargent and Derek O’Bryan who haven’t played a meaningful minute in three years.
Perfectly put by McCarthy.
Inconsistent play and poor stretches are a trademark of any young team trying to make the climb to respectability.
The Pirates have played some strong teams and haven’t measured up. Nothing shocking about that at all.
However, being a young team with a few strikes against them doesn’t qualify the Pirates for a free pass from everything.
It’s inexcusable to quit during games, and that’s happen twice this season. Once during the Wake Forest game, which was kind of overlooked because, well, it was Wake Forest and it might win a national championship this season. The second time was Saturday night in the second half of the UTEP game, and ECU gets no free pass for that.
That falls on McCarthy and seniors Sam Hinnant and James Legan, they can not allow that to happen.
The other disturbing trend is relying way too much on the three-point shot, which is what has gotten ECU in trouble in the past.
They are a team built to win on the deep ball, but the Pirates can not count on that for an entire 40 minutes. Somebody needs to take their man off the dribble besides Brock Young.
Being an immature team also does not earn them a break for not running the offense properly. Missing shots is one thing, that’s what marginal teams do, but not taking the right shots, or not properly executing to create those shots is not OK.
Not being able to inbound the ball, which happened Saturday, is just disappointing.
The ECU players have to get back to making proper cuts and setting, and utilizing screens properly. Those are just things you would expect out of a high school team.
For now, Pirates’ fans will just have to grin and bear it, and hope this team bounces back and continues to fight.
When ECU is playing well, it can hang with most C-USA teams. When they fall into bad stretches, they can lose to any squad that fields a team of five. For now, it just is what it is.