SAME OLD STORY: Pirates fail to grab first conference win
Published 11:40 pm Tuesday, January 19, 2016
The game was within grasp for the East Carolina men’s basketball team with 7:38 left in the game Tuesday night against Tulsa, but the rest of the script was an all too familiar one for the 2015-16 season.
The Pirates (8-11, 0-6 American Athletic Conference) trailed 69-65 at that point, and, after trading baskets for the next two minutes, B.J. Tyson went down for the second time in the game. After suffering a lower body injury in the first half, Tyson held his shoulder this time around. The sophomore was the heart of the ECU offense to that point. He had 16 points and four assists in the game. ECU head coach Jeff Lebo said Tyson will have an x-ray Wednesday.
After Tyson went down, the Pirate offense struggled and scored just four more points, a pair of free throws from Kentrell Barkley and Prince Williams. ECU fell by a final score of 84-69 to Tulsa (12-6, 4-2 AAC). Williams said though Tyson is a crucial part of the offense, his absence was not the reason for the struggles.
“Of course he’s a big part of our offense and him going down was unfortunate,” Williams said. “It’s still the same thing, regardless if he’s in or not. We still have to eliminate those mental breakdowns down the stretch and find ways to get tough wins.”
The Pirates turned the ball over 19 times in the game and yielded 21 points off of those. The Golden Hurricane shot well from behind the arc (14-of-27) and buried ECU with an 11-4 run after Tyson went down to finish the game.
ECU switched its usual zone defense out for man-to-man and used a triangle-and-two at times during the second half, but found little success. Tulsa took it to the lane to combat the pressure, outscoring ECU 30-18 in the paint.
ECU moved to 0-6 in conference play with the loss. Williams said as a senior leader, it is challenging to keep the team’s morale up — but is a challenge he has faced head on.
“It’s really tough. Sometimes you run out of things to say,” Williams said. “The same thing keeps happening but I’m just trying to get guys to stay together. I know guys like Kentrell — he’s not used to (losing). So I have to be there for him and just try to be positive. We just have to put this behind us and keep moving forward.”
Tulsa’s Pat Birt and senior James Woodard, who scored 20 and 22 points, respectively, scorched ECU. Woodard did not play against ECU last time out and Birt was held scoreless. Golden Hurricane senior Shaquille Harrison had a double-double in the win with 10 points and 10 assists.
“When it was winning time, you could tell their two seniors were going to will them to victory,” Lebo said.
For just the fourth time since joining the American Athletic Conference, ECU outrebounded its opponent. However, thanks to stingy defense and phenomenal shooting, it did not hurt the Golden Hurricane.
Lebo said in a difficult season, it is important to find the small victories even in difficult losses.
“We’re looking for anything, and I think we had some small victories tonight,” Lebo said. “We did some good things. Offensively, we shot the ball pretty well, we shot at a pretty good clip and got to the free throw line, finally.”
The road continues down a difficult path for ECU as it will face Memphis, Temple, Houston and Connecticut in its next four games.