ECU looks to turn two

Published 10:29 pm Tuesday, January 31, 2012

GREENVILLE — The Pirates finally got their first win of the new year on Saturday when they broke a six-game losing streak with a 73-66 victory over UAB. Now, the big question is can East Carolina turn two tonight when it hosts Southern Methodist University.
The Pirates (10-10, 1-6) shot a sizzling 58 percent (7-12) from three-point range and made 59 percent of their shots from the floor. Senior center Darrius Morrow led the charge as he made 11 of his 15 shot attempts for a game-high 24 points.
“We got off to a nice start against (UAB) and we scored the ball early,” said ECU coach Jeff Lebo. “Offensively, I thought it was our best overall performance. Darrius was dominant. Our guys really understood that we have to play off of him and the way they defended him we were able to get the ball into him a lot.”
The Pirates were able to feed off of Morrow’s performance as point guard Miguel Paul added 14 points and seven assists, small forward Erin Straughn tallied 13 points and seven rebounds and power forward Maurice Kemp accounted for 12 points and two boards.
Straughn had one of his best games of the year despite the fact that he came off the bench for the first time this season as Lebo started Robert Sampson at the three spot in an effort to add size to the ECU frontcourt.
“It was just something different, that’s it,” Lebo said. “From a defensive standpoint we played a little zone and we tried to keep Morrow out of foul trouble early because if we lose him we have real problems.”
Sampson finished the game scoring two points and grabbing four rebounds in 25 minutes.
Like any lineup move, the decision to play Kemp and Sampson at the same time has its pros and cons.
“We have our limitations when they are both on the court offensively and defensively,” Lebo said. “We played Robert at the three but he doesn’t get a lot of reps there, it’s not his natural position. Then, defensively he has to guard a perimeter guy which is different actions then if he were to guard a bigger guy.”
Defense figures to play a pivotal role in tonight’s matchup with SMU as the Mustangs are powered by 6-8, 220-pound sharp-shooting senior power forward Robert Nyakundi who is Conference USA’s leader in three-point percentage by making 44 percent of his attempts.
Nyakundi is SMU’s leader scorer and rebounder averaging 15.5 and 5.2, respectively. Nyakundi, along with coach Matt Doherty’s Princeton-style offense, presents a huge challenge to the Pirates.
“He’s one of the top three-point shooters in Conference USA and in the country. He can flat out shoot and he has size,” Lebo said. “What makes him hard to guard is that he can put the ball on the floor too and shoot with range and he has a post up game too.”
Kemp figures to get the Nyakundi assignment but Lebo said that is subject to change.
“We will start with a guy on him and see how it goes. It also depends on who else is in the game for them. They might play a lot of small guys and that might force your hand a little,” Lebo said. “They’re style is unlike anybody we’ve seen to date and we have only two days to prepare for it and that concerns me.”
On the other end of the court, Lebo is hoping his team can keep up its hot shooting from the weekend and force the Mustangs’ hand a little bit themselves.
“We have to make some shots from the perimeter. I think they’re going to be all around Morrow and make it hard for him to get touches,” Lebo said. “We have to make crisp passes and I think we have to have confidence at multiple perimeter shots and be able to make some three-point shots.”