Pirates set for season finale against Knights

Published 7:53 am Saturday, March 7, 2009

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
The Pirates head into their final game of the regular season spiraling downward as they are in the midst of a four-game losing streak, that could easily extend to five, as they hit the road to play UCF in their season finale tonight.
East Carolina’s last win, a 91-88 overtime victory over Rice, occurred nearly a month ago, and it would be a big confidence builder for ECU if it could pull out a win over the Knights before heading into the Conference USA tournament.
Despite losing four in a row, the Pirates (13-15, 5-10) have not played awful basketball, but just happened to go cold against some hot teams.
Of the four losses, two came at the hands of Tulsa and UAB, which sit in second and third in the Conference respectively. The first of the skid was to Southern Miss on the road, while the other was to Marshall at home.
Of all the loses the only one that could be called a true disappointment was the loss to the Thundering Herd, in which ECU came out flat and admitted it lacked intensity afterward.
The Pirates should not have any trouble getting up for tonight’s game against the Knights (16-13, 6-9), because they know UCF will be looking for payback for its 89-75 loss to ECU earlier in the season.
In their Feb. 7 match up, ECU was able overthrow the Knights thanks a career-high 25 points by sophomore forward Jamar Abrams, while getting double-digit scoring by Sam Hinnant (18), James Legan (13) and Brock Young (12 points, nine assists).
While the offense was flowing, the biggest factor in the Pirates’ win came on the other end of the court where they kept Conference USA’s leading scorer Jermaine Taylor in check with 24 points; two below is average.
Taylor is a massive 6-5 guard who can score anywhere on the court, but on that night ECU was able to keep him from taking over the game in large part because of a tremendous defensive effort by Hinnant.
The senior shadowed Taylor when ECU was in man defense, and the rest of the team did nice job rotating over to help when Taylor was able to get by him.
In the Knights’ last time out, a 79-70 loss at Tulsa, Taylor set the record for most points scored during conference play in a season as he has netted 430 points in 15 C-USA games.
Taylor’s 29 points against the Golden Hurricane also moved him up to fifth place ahead of Rodney Carney on the conference’s all-time scoring list with 1,928 points.
The Pirates will definitely have their hands full trying to contain Taylor a second time around, especially because he will be playing his final home game at the UCF Arena.
Another factor will be the play of point guard A. J. Rompza, who did not play suit up against ECU in the Feb. 7 battle due to an injury.
Rompza, a 5-9 freshman, is having a fantastic rookie season as he is third in the conference with 5.15 assists per game, while swiping 1.5 steals a night.
ECU’s Brock Young is the conference and Div. I leader in assists with 7.64 per game.
Having Rompza back will no doubt create more of a challenge for ECU, who also has to figure out a way to keep UCF’s 6-9 center Kenrick Zondervan out of the paint.
Zondervan was a force in the first meeting as he bullied his way past the Pirates in the post for 19 points and six boards.
However, in the end, it always seems to come down to whether or not ECU can hit its threes. In the Pirates latest defeat, an 82-62 loss to UAB, Hinnant and Legan combined for only 15 points. ECU as a team shot a brisk 34 percent (9-26) from downtown. The Pirates will need to up that number greatly if it was to head into the Conference USA tournament with a little momentum.