ECU faces must-win situation

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, February 25, 2009

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
The Pirates have entered the final lap in their race towards a winning season, and face some very tough teams as they head down the stretch.
At 13-13 (5-8), East Carolina needs to win two of its final three regular season games to lock down its first winning season since 1996-97, when ECU went 17-10 (9-7).
The good news for the Purple and Gold is that its next two games are at home, where it is 10-4 this season, the bad news its all three of its final games will be tough ones.
Starting tonight, the Pirates will host Marshall (12-15, 4-8), then welcome Conference USA second place occupants UAB (19-8, 9-3) on Saturday before finishing the regular season on the road with a rematch against UCF (16-10, 6-6).
East Carolina returns to Greenville after a tough two-game road trip in which it lost 69-59 to Southern Miss and fell 72-62 in its most recent outing at Tulsa.
ECU played a tough first half against Tulsa (18-9, 8-4), which sits in third place in the conference, as the Pirates shot 53 percent in the first half to take a 39-33 lead at the break.
East Carolina couldn’t keep up the pace in the second half as it shot a frigid 7-33 from the floor to drop its second straight game.
All that can be forgotten with a win tonight.
If East Carolina wants to reach the 15-win mark, it has to win tonight’s game against Marshall, which record-wise, is the softest opponent out of the remaining three.
In the two team’s Jan. 10th meeting, the Thundering Herd held off a Pirates’ run to escape with a 72-64 victory thanks to a double-double by Tyler Wilkerson and some late free throws.
Despite 24 points and 10 rebounds by Wilkerson, ECU had cut Marshall’s lead to 67-64 with under a minute left in the game, but could not get any closer. Marshall went on to hit five of its next six free throws to ice the game.
Seniors James Legan and Sam Hinnant led ECU with 16 and 14 points respectively.
Marshall is led by 6-6, senior swingman Markel Humphrey who is posting 12 points a game and Wilkerson, a 6-8 junior forward who averages 10 points and six boards a night.