MORE OF THE SAME: SMU remains undefeated, ECU struggles inside

Published 11:46 pm Wednesday, January 13, 2016

MICHAEL PRUNKA | DAILY NEWS FANCY MOVES: Sophomore stud B.J. Tyson puts the moves on an SMU defender. Tyson shined on offense and on the boards in ECU’s 24-point loss to the No. 10 Mustangs.

FANCY MOVES: Sophomore stud B.J. Tyson puts the moves on an SMU defender. Tyson shined on offense and on the boards in ECU’s 24-point loss to the No. 10 Mustangs.

GREENVILLE — Jeff Lebo’s first words of his post-game press conference told the story of the East Carolina basketball team’s matchup with No. 10 ranked, and undefeated, Southern Methodist.

“Wow, are they good. That’s all I can say,” Lebo said after his team fell below .500 (8-9, 0-4 American Athletic Conference) with a 79-55 loss SMU.

Despite staying with the now 16-0 Mustangs for the first half, trailing just 40-32 after 20 minutes, the Pirates looked lost in the second as Nic Moore and company imposed their will in Minges Coliseum.

With the likes of Ben Moore, Jordan Tolbert and Markus Kennedy on the inside for SMU, the Pirates were completely outmatched. The trio combined for 24 rebounds — two more than ECU’s total in the game. The Mustangs hauled in 15 offensive rebounds in the win, while the Pirates pulled down 17 defensive rebounds. In total, SMU out-rebounded ECU 42-22.

“The last three years, we’ve had really quality big guys,” SMU head coach Larry Brown said. “It hasn’t just been the fact that they score the ball and they defend their position, but they’re all great passers. Every game, like coach (Dean) Smith used to tell us, we try to go inside. They work so hard on the boards, they work so hard defensively, that we try to reward them.”

The Mustangs have one of the most fluid offenses in the country, moving the ball and spreading out the Pirates’ zone defense. Of the seven players that logged more than a minute of playing time for SMU, five reached double figures scoring. Nic Moore, SMU’s leading scorer for the season, had just six points in the win, but had 12 assists without a turnover.

The fluid passing opened up shots and led to a team shooting percentage of 52.5 percent from the field and 50 percent (11-of-22) from behind the arc. SMU earned an assist on 23 of its 31 baskets.

The Mustangs’ leading scorer, Ben Moore, shot 8-of-12 from the field for 17 points, all of which came from the paint. Moore was representative of a larger issue for ECU as SMU ran away with a 36-18 scoring advantage in the paint.

“Inside, we struggled,” said Lebo. “We just didn’t have any kind of matchup there inside.”

DIRECTING: Senior guard Prince Williams, defended by SMU standout Nic Moore, quarterbacks ECU’s offense.

There were fleeting moments that gave hope to the ECU faithful that packed the stands, 6,022 strong.

At the midway point of the first half, Caleb White and Michael Zangari hit back-to-back 3’s to cut down a 12 point deficit. From there, B.J. Tyson took over the scoring duties. Tyson scored six straight points for ECU, including a thunderous fast break slam and a pair of jumpers, to made it a four-point game.

However, the end of the half proved to be a microcosm of the game. he Pirates cut the lead to four. However, a Clarence Williams layup sandwiched between a pair of SMU three pointers in the final two and a half minutes left ECU trailing by eight.

A different SMU team came out for the second half and exploited the weaknesses of the Pirates.

“You just take a lot from a good team,” Tyson said after the loss. “That’s why they’re undefeated. I just need to give props to my team. They showed toughness and they showed fight and all we got to do is come in tomorrow and get better and get ready for Central Florida.”

Early in the second half, with a 47-36 lead, SMU put the game out of reach with an 11-0 run that gave the Mustangs a 22-point advantage. After the 13:15 mark of the second half, ECU would cut the lead down to 17 points twice, but failed to get any closer.

The lack of big men is an unsolvable problem for ECU this year with the loss of Marshall Guilmette and Deng Riak, Lebo said the biggest fixable issue for the team comes in depth scoring.

White and Tyson tied for the team lead with 15 points, while Lance Tejada hit three 3-pointers on his way to 10 points.