Pirates topple stout Temple squad

Published 4:53 pm Thursday, February 16, 2017

GREENVILLE — Sparked by the return of star guard B.J. Tyson and flanked by a variety of contributors, East Carolina’s men’s basketball team picked up a much-needed win against conference foe Temple, 78-64, on Wednesday.

Fresh off a disappointing loss to a dismal South Florida team on the road Saturday, ECU head coach Michael Perry said his team was rejuvenated and refocused. The result, he said, was a week of intense practice that resulted in the Pirates fourth win in the American Athletic Conference.

“I think they were more disappointed about the last game, not just because we didn’t make shots, but because we didn’t play with the effort that we usually bring,” Perry said. “So it kind of burns at you as a competitor for a couple days, and as a result, practices were very intense. They were going after each other and couldn’t wait to play against an opponent.”

Led by six 3-pointers in the first half, the Pirates (12-14, 4-9 AAC) matched Temple’s hot start and carried a 1-point deficit into the half. Temple, (14-13, 5-9 AAC) not to be outdone, nailed four first half 3-pointers to maintain the slim lead.

“When we went into halftime, we wanted to stay focused and keep our intensity on defense,” guard Kentrell Barkley said. “Not give up one possession on defense, play hard, give it our all and everyone bought into it and we came out with the win.”

A consistent second-half offensive effort combined with a staunch defensive effort helped ECU build a lead of its own. It culminated in a 19-point advantage with 2:49 left in the game. In total, the Pirates outscored their opponents, 41-26, in the second half.

“We have to take it a day at a time and learn how to focus,” Barkley said. “Not take opponents for granted. The lead can pull away from us. We stepped on their throat in the second half.”

Pirate senior Caleb White found his stroke in the game, contributing three of ECU’s nine total 3-pointers while chipping in 17 points in a team-high 35 minutes played.

Barkley, who didn’t start the game for reasons Perry said were disciplinary in nature, played 32 minutes and contributed a team-high 19 points while grabbing 13 rebounds. The occasion marked his third-straight double-double.

But it wasn’t Barkley’s stellar play on the court that set the tone. In fact, it was a simple text message to senior forward Michel Nzege before the game. Nzege, who’s had a season maligned with early injuries, had arguably his best performance of the season, scoring 11 points and grabbing eight rebounds.

Not to be defined by the stat sheet, Nzege also made a number of notable hustle plays — battling for rebounds and diving for loose balls.

“(Barkley) texted me and said he sees the dog in me,” Nzege said. “It’s been a frustrating season for me so I had to come out and lay the smack down on somebody and I did that.”

Tyson returned to the lineup late in the first half after dealing with a leg injury. Though he played 13 minutes and scored just three points, his return sparked the Pirates and added optimism in an otherwise disappointing season.

“He’s an all-conference player,” Nzege said. “People are going to be focused on him when he’s in the game, so it helps a lot. The defense was really focused on him. He didn’t make the type of shots that he usually makes, but it’s going to come back to him.”

The junior guard looked like the Tyson of old, as he drove to the paint and slashed through Temple’s defense. Perry was mum on the immediate outlook for Tyson, but he said he was encouraged but what he saw.

“He’s getting better,” Perry said of his star guard. “We see it in practice. He was very east-west in terms of his movement but now we’re beginning to see north-south the last couple of days and then he started driving to the basket. You know B.J. Tyson, his game is getting to the rim. The last few days we’ve seen him go to the basket.”