ECU hopes to keep building at No. 12 Cincinnati

Published 5:19 pm Friday, January 19, 2018

GREENVILLE — East Carolina looked like a force to be reckoned with in its 90-52 decimation of South Florida Wednesday in Minges. Now East Carolina aims at stringing together American Athletic Conference wins for the first time this season.

Like most opponents in the league, this one will be another lofty challenge for the Pirates. They travel out to 12th-ranked Cincinnati on Saturday for a 4 p.m. tipoff. The Bearcats and their hostile environment will be tough to tackle, but it’s a familiar challenge to tenured players like B.J. Tyson.

“This isn’t my first rodeo with playing in a packed environment. These guys, they finally get the chance and opportunity to continue playing in a packed environment,” Tyson said. “I feel like that will help their confidence, also. That’s going to help us out later on in the year.”

One player that seems to be oozing confidence is freshman guard Shawn Williams. He sank 6-of-9 attempts from 3-point range against USF. He led the Pirates with 22 points in 27 minutes off the bench.

ECU, as a team, shot 61.4 percent from the floor. It was the team’s best shooting performance to date. Another strong showing in that regard will be a step forward.

“We actually shot the ball for the first time since the beginning of the season,” Tyson said of the win over the Bulls. “So, if we can just take that and bring our defensive effort, I feel like we really have a chance to win this game.”

Cincinnati is no slouch on defense, though. It ranks second in the nation in scoring defense and in opponent field-goal percentage. ECU will have its work cut out if it hopes to have even a fraction of the offensive success it had on Wednesday at home.

“They’re one of the top defensive teams in the country. … That’s what they really hang their hat on,” interim head coach Michael Perry said. “They rebound the ball extremely well. … Obviously, there are a lot of different concerns from the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.”

There were also some tangible emotions in Wednesday’s win. Washington native and Pirate walk-on John Whitley got on the floor for the final three minutes. The bench exploded, and the fans chanted his name after he made his first shot of his career.

“I yelled at coach Perry to put John in the game,” Tyson recalled. “We love seeing him and getting the walk-ons a chance to get in the game. … When John had the ball, he passed one of his shots up. I looked at the Perry and told him to call the play and he’ll have to shoot the ball.”

Perry added: “He’s one of the most popular guys on our team. Everybody loves him. He’s been an intricate part of our team. He’s a guy that doesn’t get in there much as a walk-on, but he contributes to the success that we do have.”