Pirates drop fourth in a row

Published 3:27 pm Thursday, January 12, 2017

GREENVILLE — East Carolina men’s basketball head coach Jeff Lebo spent the week preaching to his team about taking open shots and doing so with confidence.

Wednesday night against Houston, it was the visiting Cougars who looked more like the team Lebo imagined.

Houston, led by dynamic guard Rob Gray Jr., made their first seven 3-point attempts, quieting the Minges Coliseum crowd and jumping out to a 9-0 lead that would eventually culminate in a 74-58 victory. Gray finished with a game-high 19 points and four assists.

“It’s tough,” ECU sophomore Kentrell Barkley said about Houston’s hot start from beyond the arc. “You just have to stay focused and try to come back little by little and execute.”

Meanwhile the Pirates, as has been the case all season, failed to hit open shots from the perimeter, making only 3-of-22 3-point attempts and finished just 34 percent from the field.

Caleb White, a senior leader and one of ECU’s most consistent players in recent years, continued to show the offensive inconsistency that’s plagued him this season against the Cougars, as he finished just 2-of-7 from the field, bringing his shooting percentage down to just 39 percent this season.

“We had some good looks tonight,” Lebo said. “You’re never going to get wide open shots at this level. You have to be confident that you can step up and make it and that’s not our strength. It’s very frustrating because until you can make it out there, it just affects everyone else on the floor.”

Houston’s hot start gave it a 47-25 halftime lead, before which Damyean Dotson and Gray each hit a 3 in the final 30 seconds to extend the commanding lead.

“Give Houston credit, they shot the basketball well,” Lebo said. “From 3, that was as good as I’ve seen a team shoot in a long time. We didn’t need that to happen to us tonight.”

The already-insurmountable lead was made even more improbable after ECU junior guard B.J. Tyson — the team’s leading scorer — went down in the second half after landing awkwardly during an alley-oop dunk, apparently injuring his leg. He returned to the bench on crutches late in the game.

Tyson’s absence opened the door for center Andre Washington, as the poor perimeter shooting forced Lebo and the Pirates to look down low for production.

“I don’t like to see none of my teammates hurt,” Washington said of Tyson. “He said he messed it up a little bit off that lob play when he came down. I don’t know anything other than that.”

Washington finished with 12 points and went a perfect 4-for-4 from the field with 11 rebounds and two assists. Freshmen Elijah Hughes and Jeremy Sheppard finished with seven and five points, respectively, in 51 combined minutes of play.

The Pirates return to action Sunday against Cincinnati, hoping to end their four-game losing streak before facing Connecticut on the road.