Pirates look to sweep Knights

It appears the one-week layoff between ECU's 79-63 win at Rice and Saturday's game against the UCF Knights (16-6, 6-2 Conference USA) was just what the Pirates needed to get back to full strength.

Robert Sampson, a 6-foot-8 forward, is expected to play against the Knights, after going down with a left-knee injury on Jan. 26 and missing the team's last two games. Sampson is the team's leader in rebounds, averaging 9.8 boards per game and arguably is its best post-defender as well.

In their last time out, UCF handed Southern Miss its first league loss of the year with a 60-58 win in Orlando. Preseason C-USA player of the year Keith Clanton was held to only 6 points, shooting 1 for 5 from the field, but still managed to collect 9 rebounds, 4 steals, and 7 blocks, all team highs.

Clanton, who scored a career-high 36 points against the Pirates on Jan. 12, will be ECU head coach Jeff Lebo's primary concern.

"(UCF) plays off of him. Whether you are going to double him or not, he's almost a guy who commands a double (team)," said Lebo. "He presents a lot of different problems. (UCF) has some experienced guys around him."

Two of those experienced players are Isaiah Sykes and Tristan Spurlock, who average 15.5 and 10.8 points per game respectively.

Spurlock, a 6-foot-8 forward, had a game-high 18 points against Southern Miss to go along with his 7 rebounds. Overshadowed by Clanton's performance, he scored 23 points against ECU in the schools' first meeting.

In that same game, Sykes, a 6-foot-5, 215 pound guard, left with an injury and wasn't available down the stretch. The Pirates took advantage, with Corvonn Gaines draining a game-winning triple in the final seconds of overtime. ECU erased a 17 point deficit to win 88-85.

Conference USA's leading scorer Maurice Kemp is coming off a 33 point performance against Rice, a career-high, but knows the Knights will be playing with added motivation. Kemp was named Conference USA's player of the week on Monday.

Not to be overlooked, Ty Armstrong – who transferred to ECU along with Lebo—notched his career-high of 22 points against Rice and has emerged as a legitimate post scorer at the start of conference play.

"He's learning, he's getting better, he's got a good focus. His maturity level has gotten a lot better from when I had him at Auburn to now, " said Lebo. "I think the sky is the limit for Ty (Armstrong)."

After dropping five straight games away from Minges Coliseum, the Pirates have responded with back-to-back road conference wins at Alabama-Birmingham and Rice.

"We struggled on the road earlier in the season, and those road wins are hard to come by, especially in Conference USA. It's good to have that momentum going," said Kemp.

Tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. from Orlando on Saturday. Inside ECU Sports will be providing live updates on Twitter @InsideECUSports, and the game will be broadcast on the Pirate IMG Sports Network.

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