ECU back in action

Published 6:22 pm Thursday, December 15, 2011

East Carolina’s Corvonn Gaines (11) looks up court as teammate Darrius Morrow (1) battles for position in a win over Coker earlier this year. After a 10-day break the Pirates will be back in action tonight when they travel to face UNC-Greensboro. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

GREENVILLE — After having 10 days off the Pirates’ hiatus will come to an end tonight when they hit the road to take on UNC-Greensboro.
The Spartans (2-8, Southern Conference) have had a tumultuous week as they have parted ways with head coach Mike Dement and tabbed assistant Wes Miller to take the reigns.
Dement compiled a 124-181 record during two stints with UNCG and East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo said that the Spartans’ recent upheavel figures to make tonight’s contest even tougher.
“We’re getting them at an awful time,” Lebo said. “With the coaching change there they will probably play pretty loose and carefree.”
Lebo said that a contributing factor to UNCG’s losing record is the fact that they have faced some tough competition up to this point.
“They’ve played an unbelievably difficult schedule,” Lebo said. “They have played six true road games and faced Tennessee on the road and Georgetown and Florida State on the road. Their last game was probably their best against Florida State, it was a close game with about 10 minutes to go.”
The Spartans would go on to lose that contest 75-60, and Lebo can sympathize with his opponent as the Pirates (4-4, Conference USA), who fell 63-58 to UMass in their last time out, have lost their share of close games this year as well.
“I told the kids that in our four losses we are about four or five plays away from being undefeated; that’s how close we are,” Lebo said.
With that in mind, the Pirates’ second-year coach used the extra time off to address some of the team’s weaknesses, with the most pressing one being the team’s inability to consistently score.
“We need to get some confidence in our shooters,” Lebo said. “We can’t win without putting the ball in the basket. We have defended well enough and we have rebounded well enough but we haven’t scored well enough and we need to do all three of those things.”
What’s been holding East Carolina back this year is the fact that it hasn’t gotten consistent production behind leading scorers Miguel Paul (16.1 ppg) and Darrius Morrow (12 ppg).
“We’ve found some things that we know we have to do to be good,” Lebo said. “We know Morrow and Paul every night have to be good. We know that. If one of them is good then we are not going to have a chance. If both of them are bad then we’re really going to struggle.
“When those two are good we still need the emergence of a third scorer, a guy we can count on for eight to 10 points.”
Junior shooting guard Shamarr Bowden is third on the team in scoring with 7.5 points per game and is trailed by junior G/F Erin Straughn (6.9 ppg) and junior SF/PF Maurice Kemp (6.5 ppg). As of now, the competition to be the third scorer is wide open.
“I don’t know who it’s going to be,” Lebo said. “One day its Bowden who is making some shots, Paris (Roberts-Campbell, 4.8 ppg) is certainly capable of making some shots. (Austin) Steed (5.3 ppg) has to give us six to eight points a game. Robert (Sampson, 5.3 ppg) has been injured and hasn’t been able to do much with his hand but he showed incredible toughness just getting his body on the floor.”
Each one of those players has shown flashes of being able to do what Lebo is looking for, with the latest being the 6-8, 185-pound Kemp who transferred from Miami Dade college and came off the bench to score 12 points and grab four boards in the loss to UMass.
“He’s had his moments. He can score for us in a variety of ways,” Lebo said. “He’s learning to make the adjustment to this level and that adjustment has been slow. Attention to detail is something he needs to work on. Once he figures that out and can do the little things I think you will see him play more minutes for us.
“He’s in a situation where is has to play the three and the four and that’s hard, I don’t usually crossover guys at those positions. That’s a big difference.”