Pirates ready for rematch with UCF

Published 4:24 pm Friday, February 17, 2012

East Carolina forward Maurice Kemp (with ball) is expected to miss today’s game with Central Florida because of a toe injury. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

GREENVILLE — The last time East Carolina played Central Florida it got pounded in the post as the Knights held a 46-29 rebounding advantage and outscored the Pirates 50-30 in paint to top ECU 81-63.

This time around East Carolina enters the matchup with an even thinner frontcourt as senior center Austin Steed has since been declared academically ineligible and power forward Maurice Kemp’s status is up in the air due to a toe injury described as turf toe. Kemp, who is the team’s third-leading scorer (10.4 ppg) and second-leading rebounder (5.5 rpg) sustained the injury during practice last Friday and was out during the team’s 78-68 loss to Marshall on Saturday. There has been no time table put in place for his return.

With size already being an issue for ECU, the Pirates’ post players face a big task in trying to slow down a UCF frontcourt that is led by 6-9, 245-pound junior C/F Keith Clanton and 6-9, 260-pound junior power forward Josh Crittle.

For the Pirates, the best way to negate the Knights’ advantage on the glass is to make sure there are less rebounds.

“It’s hard but we’re going to have to make some shots,” East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo said. “(Against Marshall) Robert Sampson was really good, he was 3-of-4 from the three. That’s what you have to do when you’re small at that spot, you have to make them defend you from the perimeter.”

Sampson and teammate Miguel Paul each recorded double-doubles in their loss to the Thundering Herd as the both finished with a team-high 19 points while Sampson added 10 rebounds and Paul dished out 11 assists.

With the absence of Kemp, both Sampson and senior center Darrius Morrow will need to elevate their play, and most importantly, stay out of foul trouble.

“It’s real important. Me and Robert and (backup center Darius) Morales can’t afford to be in foul trouble because Central Florida is pretty big,” Morrow said. “They can really attack inside, they have a lot of big inside players. If we get in foul trouble we hurt the team.”

If Kemp cannot play today 6-6 junior small forward Erin Straughn is expected to help out down low as well as 6-4 junior PG Corvonn Gaines.

Central Florida has the second-best rebounding offense in the league and its +4.2 rebounding margin is the fourth-best in the league.

Junior shooting guard Marcus Jordan led the Knights in scoring with 15.3 points per game while Clanton is tallying 15 points and 8.8 boards per night.

The last time these two teams met UCF point guard A.J. Rompza was a major factor as he scored 16 points, dished out nine assists and had five steals.

“We just can’t give him that much air space … and cut down his passing lanes,” Paul said. “The last time we played them we played a lot of zone and that’s how he got a lot of his looks.”

Paul is the Pirates leading scorer with 16.4 points per game and is also the team’s top assist man with six per game, while Morrow is second with 14.4 points a night and a team-best 6.2 rebounds per contest.