Pirates look to cook Rice

Published 12:56 am Saturday, January 31, 2009

By Staff
By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
East Carolina’s roller coaster ride of a season continues when the Pirates (10-9, 2-4) face Rice on the road today.
After losing to the best Conference USA has to offer in Memphis, the Pirates will now encounter the other end of the spectrum when it steps on the court at 2 p.m. against the Owls, who are a C-USA-worst 6-14 (1-5).
Though its record has them in the C-USA cellar, Rice is a feisty team that cannot afford to be overlooked by the Pirates.
The Owls nearly topped Tulane in its last outing, but the Green Wave was able to pull out a 61-59 victory thanks to a buzzer-beating Kevin Simms layup.
First-year head coach Ben Braun is now in charge of the program and has over 30 years of experience.
Braun coached at Cal for 12 seasons and, in that time, his Bears made five NCAA tournament appearances. In 1998 he guided Cal to a Sweet 16 appearance, while in 1999 his Bears won the NIT.
The Owls’ new skipper headed into the 2008-09 season ranking 11th all-time in Div. I victories with 552.
Basically, the days of Rice being a joke in Conference USA may quickly be coming to an end.
The problem for the Owls is that they simply don’t have the talent yet. Rice features one double-digit scorer in senior guard Rodney Foster who leads the team in points and assists per game with 10 and four respectively.
Scoring points has been a problem for Rice all season, as its 62 points per game average ranks last in the conference.
Defensively, the Owls haven’t been much better, as they have let up 72.1 points per contest, which ranks them right above East Carolina who sits in 11th place.
Despite a lop-sided loss to the Tigers, the Pirates should not hang their heads. ECU put in a solid effort for the entire 40 minutes of the game, and if not for some poor free throw shooting, might have put a scare into Memphis.
Sophomore forward Jamar Abrams has been hot lately, and netted 18 points versus the No. 18 Tigers.
After falling in a mini-slump, senior guard Sam Hinnant said he has regained his confidence, and it showed as he poured in 17 points Wednesday against Memphis.
Hinnant leads the Pirates with 15 points per game, which ranks 11th in C-USA. Fellow senior James Legan is right behind him with 12 a night, while sophomore Brock Young has brought his average up to 10 points a night, and still leads Div. I in assists with eight per game.
Freshman power forward Darrius Morrow has earned more minutes as the season has gone on, and rightfully so. Morrow leads all Conference USA freshman in rebounding with seven a night, and is currently ranked fifth in the conference.