Comeback Kids do it again|ECU rallies from 13-point deficit to top Houston

Published 9:47 pm Sunday, January 30, 2011

By By BRIAN HAINES,, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — The Pirates are showing they have a knack for the comeback. Exactly one week after rallying from a 12-point second-half deficit to beat Marshall, East Carolina dug itself out of a 13-point second half hole to knock off Houston 74-70 on Saturday.
Thanks to an 18-point, 13-rebound effort from forward Maurice McNeill, the Cougars were able to hold a lead over the Pirates from the start of the game all the way up until the 1:46 mark in the second half. That’s when Jamar Abrams sank two free throws to give ECU a 67-66 advantage. It would be one the Pirates would not lose a grip on.
The win over the Conference USA rival Cougars upped East Carolina’s record to 12-9 and put their conference record at 4-3. The four C-USA wins ties the team’s total from all of last season.
After the Pirates shot 50 percent from the floor and 30 percent from downtown in their 84-74 loss to Southern Miss on Wednesday, ECU hit only 37 percent of its shots against the Cougars and converted a mere 4 of its 24 shots from behind the arc in Saturday’s win.
The one place the Pirates were red-hot was on the free throw line, especially in the second half, where the team made 24 of its 28 shots from the stripe. Overall, ECU hit on 28 of its 34 attempts (82.4 percent) for the game.
Senior guard Jontae Sherrod led the Pirates in scoring with a game-high 20 points, while junior forward Darrius Morrow poured in 18 for the second straight contest. Together, the duo combined to score 20 of the team’s 46 second-half points.
“It’s a terrific win, I’m still trying to figure out how we did it. We’ll have to watch it on film,” ECU coach Jeff Lebo said. “I thought the kids competed to the very end. Really for 30 minutes the best term I can use for our play was funky. … But the foul line helped us win the game. We got it inside and we got to the foul line.”
The Pirates had four players reach double-digits or better as Corvonn Gaines added a career-high 13 points and Brock Young tallied 11 points and five assists.
That effort, combined with some great late defensive stands that were aided by a deafening crowd of 6,308 crazed fans, helped ECU complete its comeback against the Cougars (11-9, 3-4).
“This team right here is resilient,” Sherrod said. “And the crowd, they got us into it. That was like one of the biggest crowds I have seen this year and I’m happy for the support.”
Saturday’s crowd was the biggest of the season and their support helped ECU force Houston into two shot clock violations in the final 3:30 of the game and seemed to have an affect on several other late possessions.
“I thought the crowd at the end was gigantic the last three or four minutes of the game, I thought that gave us energy,” Lebo said. “It may have rattled (Houston) a little bit down the stretch. We had a couple of big shot clock violations in the last few minutes and you can give that assist to the crowd.”
Late in the second half it didn’t look the crowd would have any reason to cheer as a three-pointer by Houston’s Darian Thibodeaux gave his team a 62-51 lead at the 6:27 mark.
But just as the Cougars were ready to shovel dirt on East Carolina, a Gaines layup was followed by a pair of free throws by Abrams and Young and before you knew it ECU was crawling out of its grave.
The layup by Gaines kicked off a 20-7 run, which featured a big three-point bucket from Young and an old-school three-point play from Gaines as the team made 13 of its 15 free throw attempts during that span.
In the end though, Sherrod said it was the team’s defensive effort that made the difference.
“Defense is what it was (that got the team going). We couldn’t rebound the ball particularly well in the first half like we wanted to. But down the stretch it was the defense that got (the win) for us,” Sherrod said.
With the win the Pirates have now overcome a second half deficit of over 10-points three times this season and Morrow said this year’s team is more mentally tough than in years past.
“This year we just haven’t folded under pressure like that,” Morrow said. “We comeback all the time so you know 12 points is still a ball game.”
Sherrod said last week’s thrilling win over Marshall helped give the team confidence on Saturday.
“We just knew what to do,” Sherrod said. “It’s like what Coach (Jeff) Lebo said in the huddle ‘We did it before, so let’s do it again.’”