Pirates to host Owls

Published 4:30 pm Friday, February 3, 2012

East Carolina’s Maurice Kemp (2) sets a pick for Shamarr Bowden (left) during the Pirates’ loss to Southern Miss. Tonight ECU will look for its third straight win when it hosts Rice. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

GREENVILLE — After disposing of Southern Methodist 62-43 on Wednesday, East Carolina will attempt to win its third straight game tonight when it entertains Rice at 5 p.m.

It’s been a season of streaks for the Pirates (11-10, 2-6) who won five straight heading into Conference USA play then dropped six consecutive games before winning their last two contests.

Up or down, East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo has not wavered from his one-game-at-time belief and said after Wednesday’s win that he doesn’t want his team’s focus to stray from the present.

“We don’t care if we’ve lost six in a row or won six in a row. We’re just trying to move forward and get ready for Rice,” Lebo said. “Hopefully (the win) gives our kids some confidence. It’s better than losing when you’re going into a game, I’ll tell you that.”

On Wednesday the Pirates excelled at all the critical phases of the game as they made 47 percent of its shots, outscored the Mustangs 32-18 in the paint and outrebounding them 33-22. From beyond the arc ECU made 10 of its 28 attempts (35 percent) while SMU got lost downtown where it shot 0-for-11 without its star sniper Robert Nyakundi.

The Pirates will have to do the same tonight as they take on a Rice team (13-10, 4-4) that is led by star Arsalem Kazemi. The 6-7 junior forward from Iran is averaging a double-double on the season with 13.4 points and a Conference USA-best 11.1 rebounds per game. Kazemi also leads the conference in steals with two a game and his 1.3 blocks per game is ninth.

Also powering the Owls is junior guard Tamir Jackson who is recording 10.9 points per contest while sharpshooter Conner Frizzle is making 41 percent of hits attempts from downtown and to tally 9.7 points a night.

The Pirates continue to be led in scoring by junior point guard Miguel Paul whose 16 points per game average is the third-best total in C-USA. Paul is also the conference’s top assist man with 5.5 helpers per contest.

Despite battling fatigue from being the lone center on the team, Darrius Morrow continues to play at a high level and is posting 13 points and team-best 6.3 rebounds a night.

Against SMU, forward Robert Sampson’s wrist appeared to be getting closer to being healthy as he made five of his nine field goal attempts and went 3-for-3 from downtown to score a game-high 13 points.

The Pirates head into tonight’s game leading Conference USA in steals with 8.6 per game, which is one spot ahead of Rice (8 spg).

The Owls have also won two straight contests, with their last one coming in dramatic fashion as Julian DeBose nailed a buzzer-beater to down UTEP 77-75.