Still on the hunt

Published 5:58 pm Tuesday, January 17, 2012

East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo (center) and the Pirates fell 70-67 on Saturday to Tulsa and will look to capture their first Conference USA victory of the season tonight when they play at UTEP. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

GREENVILLE — The Pirates search for their first Conference USA victory continues tonight as they look to snap their three-game losing skid at UTEP.
East Carolina (9-7, 0-3) came riding high into C-USA play as it brought a five-game winning streak into its league opener. The momentum did not carry over as ECU lost to Southern Miss, Central Florida and on Saturday dropped its third straight when it fell 70-67 to Tulsa.
Heading into their matchup with the Golden Hurricane it was thought that size would be an issue for the Pirates but they matched up against Tulsa well as both teams ended the contest even in points in the paint and rebounds with 22 and 34, respectively.
What plagued the Pirates on Saturday was a dreadful first half in which their normally staunch perimeter defense allowed Tulsa to shoot a blistering 77 percent (7-for-9) from three-point range en route to 40-33 halftime lead.
On the season, East Carolina is second in Conference USA in three-point defense holding teams to 29 percent shooting.
“Tulsa came out on fire. (Jordan) Clarkson hit a couple shots, and he really got it going early,” ECU senior center Darrius Morrow said after the game.
“Our defense wasn’t tight enough early in the game. As the contest progressed, we began playing defense and got ourselves back in it.”
That they did, as East Carolina came within a Maurice Kemp heave of sending the game into overtime but the Pirates could not overcome another game where they shot under 40 percent from the floor. By the end of the contest ECU had made only 26 percent of its attempts from downtown and 38 percent of its total shots.
“We battled and clawed to do everything to get back into the game and we just weren’t able to make some plays,” Pirates’ coach Jeff Lebo said Saturday. “We shot at such a poor percentage. We are not going to be able to do that and beat good teams. We are going to have to shoot the ball at higher than 30 percent (from three-point range).”
East Carolina will look to bounce back tonight on the road as it travels to take on a UTEP team that holds a 9-9 (2-2) record and is coming off of a 70-64 overtime victory over SMU on Saturday.
The Miners lead Conference USA in assists with 14.9 per game and are trailed by the Pirates who are dishing out 14.5 per contest.
East Carolina leads the league in steals (9.1 per game) and the offense has been guided by junior point guard Miguel Paul who is posting 16 points per game and a C-USA best 5.6 assists per contest.
UTEP’s offense is good for 64.4 points per game, which ranks 10th out of the 12 teams in the league. Sophomore guard Michael Perez leads the Miners in scoring with 12.1 points per game and is trailed by senior Gabriel McCulley (12 ppg) and 6-7 freshman Julian Washburn (10.2 ppg). Junior guard Jacques Streeter leads UTEP in assists (4.1 apg) and is recording 7.2 points a night.