Pirates can't fly with Eagles|Southern Miss coach, ECU fans exchange words

Published 9:18 pm Thursday, January 27, 2011

By By BRIAN HAINES, Brian@wdnweb.com, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — The Pirates attempt at winning three consecutive Conference USA games for the first time since the 2008-09 season fell a few points short as Southern Miss topped East Carolina 84-77 at Minges Coliseum Wednesday night in game that was highlighted big plays and big mouths as Eagles coach Larry Eustachy exchanged words with the Pirates’ student section near the end of the thrilling contest.
East Carolina (11-9, 3-3) managed to hold Southern Miss star forward Gary Flowers to three points under his Conference USA-leading 20 points per game average, but in the end the Golden Eagles’ ability to hit big shots in clutch situations carried them over the Pirates.
“Southern Miss played unbelievably well tonight and sometimes you just got to tip your hat to somebody, and I tip my hat to them tonight,” East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo said. “Their strategy was to milk the clock and burn the clock with a high weave and try to score at the end of the shot clock, it wasn’t anything tricky. They made every shot at the end of the shot clock it seemed like.”
While Flowers ended the game with a team-high 17 points, he also got a lot of help from Sai’Quon Stone and D.J. Newbill who added 13 points each and hit key free throws down the stretch.
The Pirates were led by forward Darrius Morrow, who scored a game-high 18 points one game after netting a career-high 33 against Marshall.
Senior guard Jontae Sherrod slashed and dashed his way to 16 points, while Brock Young came off the bench for 13 points and five assists.
East Carolina hit on 51 percent of its shots from the field, 30 percent of its attempts from downtown and 79 percent of its free throws, but despite the solid offensive statistics the Pirates could not keep up with the Eagles (14-5, 3-3) down the stretch.
“It’s frustrating. We wanted this game so badly as a group,” Lebo said. “We had a great crowd here and it’s not like we just played poorly and got beat, we did some good things out there.”
East Carolina took a six point lead midway through the first half but went into the break down 37-35.
After halftime the Pirates battled back and took a 53-50 lead at the 10:26 mark after Morrow buried two free throws. However, that would be the last time they held the lead as the Eagles’ Angelo Johnson nailed back-to-back three-pointers to take momentum and a 56-53 advantage.
East Carolina would get within one of Southern Miss at 63-62, after a pair of Sherrod free throws, but the Eagles clamped down with a staunch press that smothered the Pirates’ offense.
As the clock ticked towards zero and it became evident the Eagles had won, the game took a bizarre turn as Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy pumped his fist several times and pointed to the scoreboard in a direct response to the heckling heaped upon him by the Pirates student section.
Eustachy said his boisterous interaction with the crowd was in retaliation to the fans harsh comments about his personal life, most notably Eustachy’s firing from Iowa State after pictures surfaced of the coach with alcohol at a college party in 2003.
“There were some comments by students behind the bench that were pretty personal so it got me fired up; it cost ’em” Eustachy said. “It’s been eight years since I had a drink and you would think that, that would be behind you, but you know students are students.”
Eustachy said the students went behind the normal heckling that he hears in arenas across the country.
“The problem is the (Southern Miss) players have their coach’s back, and the problem is that we have very competitive players – and a competitive coach probably – and you just don’t want those things to get ugly,” Eustachy said. “So I just sit there and listen, and I probably should have held myself back and just moved on, but it was way over the top in some areas. But that’s life.”
When asked his thoughts on Eustachy’s animated antics at the end of the game Lebo diplomatically responded by saying, “I didn’t really focus on that too much.”
The Pirates will look to bounce back from the loss Wednesday when they host Conference USA rival Houston at 6 p.m.