East Carolina set for Conference USA tournament opener

Published 8:39 am Wednesday, March 11, 2009

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
This isn’t exactly how coach Mack McCarthy drew it up in the beginning of the season … But, in the end it could lead to an East Carolina milestone.
The conventional hoops team looks to hit full stride by March, and explode into its conference tournament with the momentum of LeBron James in the open court.
After losing five straight, East Carolina enters the Conference USA tournament more like Yao Ming leading a fastbreak: stumbling, off balance and a little hard to watch, but if he can just make it to the end you’re pretty sure he can dunk it.
The Pirates (13-16, 5-11) have completely backed into the conference tournament by ending the season on a five-game skid, but somehow caught a break by nabbing the eighth seed.
East Carolina will look for its first ever C-USA tourney win tonight at 7 p.m. when it tips off against the ninth-seeded Tulane Green Wave (13-16, 7-9), a team the Pirates match up fairly well with.
Who knows? Maybe they can dunk it.
And optimist would say that by losing five straight games, the probability of a win increases. The Pirates are bound to win again sometime. Why not tonight?
East Carolina senior guard James Legan feels its his team’s destiny to face Tulane, and win.
The Pirates have done their best to put their 74-71 loss to UCF in the season finale behind them, and are now concentrating on the postseason.
East Carolina and Tulane have met twice this season already, with the home team winning each time.
On Jan. 7, the Pirates drew first blood with a 69-66 win over the Herd at Minges. Tulane struck back on Feb. 11 with a 73-64 victory in New Orleans.
Tonight, the two teams will battle on neutral ground as they will hit the hardwood at Memphis’ FedExForum.
In order for Legan’s prediction to become fact, the Pirates will need to stay out of foul trouble, which played a big factor in both their previous meetings with Tulane.
Like every game, ECU will need its two seniors to come out gunning if its wants to stay in the contest.
Hinnant is the conference’s 10th leading scorer with 14.9 points per game, while Legan’s 12 points per game is 22nd.
ECU will also need another steady, low-turnover game from point guard Brock Young. The sophomore point guard led the nation in assists with 7.6 per game, however was ignored by C-USA voters who failed to put him on any of the all-conference teams.
The Green Wave is led by junior Kevin Sims, who led the Green Wave with 18 points in the team’s Feb. 7 win over ECU, and is averaging 13 points per contest.
Richard, a sophomore, is Tulane’s second leading scorer with a 10.9 points per game average.
Robinson Louisme is the team’s top big man, as the 6-7 senior is putting up 10.6 points per game, while ripping down 6.9 rebounds a night.
The two team’s styles contrast greatly. Tulane plays more of a classic brand of basketball as it methodically looks to get the ball into the post first, before exploring other options.
On the other hand, ECU prefers to play an up-tempo style with its first scoring option being behind the arc.
Which ever team can impress its style of play on the other, will greatly improve its odds of playing Memphis in the second round.
A look inside the numbers
ECU (13-16, 5-11) Tulane (13-16, 7-9)
Scoring offense
ECU 73 Tulane 65.8
Scoring defense
ECU 74 Tulane 67.1
Rebounding margin (per game)
ECU -2.1 Tulane -1.4
Assists per game
ECU 14.9 Tulane (13.52)
Team leaders
Points per game
Sam Hinnant 15 Kevin Sims 13
Rebounds per game
Darrius Morrow 6.5 Robinson Louisme 6.9
Assists per game
Brock Young 7.62 Kevin Sims 3.97
Blocks per game
Darrius Morrow .83 Robinson Louisme 1.31
Steals per game
Brock Young 1.34 Kris Richard 1.97