ECU eyes winning season as it heads down the stretch|Pirates learning how to do things 'The Lebo Way'

Published 8:52 pm Tuesday, January 25, 2011

By By BRIAN HAINES,, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — The Pirates returned home from a two-game road trip with two wins in hand and a shot at finishing the season with a winning record for the first time since the 1996-97 season when they went 17-10 (9-7) as members of the Colonial Athletic Conference.
After falling 66-59 to UAB in East Carolina’s last home game on Jan. 17, the Pirates hit the road for what could have been a potentially damaging two-game stretch as they faced then-No. 19 UCF, before heading to play another Conference USA rival in Marshall, who had recently beat West Virginia.
Instead of fading, ECU turned up the intensity versus Central Florida and held a lead for the majority of its 74-62 victory last Wednesday.
On Saturday, the Pirates traveled to Marshall and appeared to be headed towards a let down game as they trailed the Thundering Herd all the way up until the final stages of the contest. However, thanks to a career-high 33 points from F/C Darrius Morrow, East Carolina was able to overcome a 12-point halftime deficit and walk away with an 82-81 victory.
As a result of that stretch, the Pirates now stand at 11-8 (3-2) and need to win only five of its final 11 games to clinch a winning season. If that scenario were to play out ECU would head into the postseason with 16-14 overall record, and even if it lost in the first round of the C-USA tournament, it would finish the season 16-15.
In the preseason first-year coach Jeff Lebo said that this team’s success would hinge on how it fared in close games. So far this year the Pirates have played nine games that were won or lost by 10 points or less and own a 5-4 record in those contests. Three times ECU has played in games that have been decided by a point and have won two of those.
The team appears to be taking on Lebo’s more intense approach and the results are showing on the court as the Pirates have already won more games then they did all last season.
“We have come a long way but we still have a long way to go,” Lebo said. “We just finished up a stretch where we played seven of nine games on the road and nobody has even remotely come close to that in our league.
“I just hope we can sustain (momentum) here at home. It’s easy to think ‘well we are at home it will be easy’ but nothing is easy for us. … We have gotten a little bit of attention now after those two wins and I think that being able to sneak up on somebody and shock them is not the case anymore so we just have to be better in our preparation.”
Lebo said that playing in close games can provide lessons whether the team wins or losses them.
“We have lost a couple of close ones and that’s discouraging. When you win one it’s certainly nice to be in that locker room,” Lebo said. “You can talk about it because it has happened to you. You can watch tape and talk about what happened. Why we did it and why we won. We have also watched why we failed. But to come back against that deficit (against Marshall) on the road shows some mental toughness. Now can we build upon that is the question. … Winning those games is the difference between going 17-13 and 13-17.”
There is no question the team has bought into Lebo’s style as a coach. The players have already coined the phrase “The Lebo Way” as a term for doing things with all-out hustle and/or proper technique.
When asked what the team needs to do to get a win on Wednesday when the Pirates host Southern Miss forward Jamar Abrams said, “We just got to play The Lebo Way.”
Abrams defined The Lebo Way as “just doing everything he says from rebounding, to pressing, to defending and running our sets. If we play his way we will win.”
Morrow, who took criticism from Lebo over his weight and lack of intensity earlier in the season, now seems to be one of the biggest believers in doing things The Lebo Way.
“I said that in the beginning of the year; just do things The Lebo Way,” Morrow said with a smile. “It’s just doing everything the right way from defending, to rebounding, to running the floor, to accepting the coaching, to just being a player.”
The Pirates have 11 games left in the regular season and if they can keep doing things The Lebo Way they may be able to add a winning season to the list of things that term applies to.