Pirates hit road looking for first AAC win
Published 3:25 pm Friday, January 15, 2016
After a blowout loss on its home floor against No. 10 Southern Methodist, the East Carolina men’s basketball team will take to the road to face American Athletic Conference foe Central Florida.
In the 2014-15 campaign, the Pirates knocked off the Knights three times — including their lone road victory of the season and an AAC tournament victory. However, last time out, UCF handed ECU its first of four consecutive conference losses to begin the league schedule.
“When we get into the league (play), it’s hard,” said ECU head coach Jeff Lebo after Wednesday’s loss to SMU. “We’re just not ready yet, we’re not ready this year consistently. We’ve got to find a way to keep the guys together. It’s hard on them, every night it’s difficult.”
ECU held a 10-point second half lead and watched it fall away as the Knights marched past ECU, 71-68. UCF is coming off an 88-73 loss at the hands of SMU, where it relied heavily on the inside play of Justin McBride.
McBride poured in 20 points and pulled down nine rebounds in the loss against a frontcourt that dominated ECU. He was less of a factor offensively Jan. 2 in Minges Coliseum as he scored 8 points, but he hauled in a game-high 13 rebounds as the Knights won the battle on the boards, 45-35, though that is to be expected by now.
“I’ve got my two big ones (Marshall Guilmette and Deng Riak) sitting beside me on the bench, hurt,” Lebo said of his team’s ineffectiveness on the glass. “We’ve had them but now we need to reload and get more, I guess.”
A.J. Davis was his typical self and even better last time out against ECU. The Knights leading scorer carried his team back into the game and finished with 23 points and six rebounds. The Pirates held second leading scorer Adonys Henriquez (10 points) largely in check until the final run, when the sophomore buried his only two three-point baskets of the game.
UCF is off to an 8-6 start and 2-1 in conference play with wins over ECU and South Florida, all without last year’s freshman AAC sensation B.J. Taylor who was sidelined before the start of the season. Davis, in his first eligible year after transferring from Tennessee, has filled the void left by Taylor. Along with leading the team in scoring, Davis is also the team’s leading rebounder.
With the emergence of 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall, the UCF frontcourt is nothing to scoff at. Fall, a freshman starter, is averaging 7.9 points per game and 4.9 rebounds while leading the conference with 2.3 blocks per game. McBride comes off the bench and is averaging seven points and four boards.
After the loss to SMU, Lebo said there will be no hangover with his team after being dealt a 24-point loss at home.
“We’ve been pretty good at focusing on the process to move into this new league and move into the middle of the league and move our program forward,” Lebo said. “The only thing you can do is work your butt off every single day, prepare them as best we can and just keep battling for the next one. We can’t worry about what’s happened in the past we’ve got to worry about what’s going to lay ahead.”