Pirates set sights on Aggies

ECU will end its eight-year hiatus against North Carolina A&T when the schools meet at Minges Coliseum Saturday night.

East Carolina (8-2) returns to action Saturday when it hosts the North Carolina A&T Aggies (3-6) at Minges Coliseum at 5 p.m.

The Aggies appeared in the NCAA tournament this spring despite finishing the 2012-2013 regular season with a sub-.500 record (15-16). After advancing through the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament and earning the school's first NCAA victory against Liberty in the first round, A&T was eventually knocked out by the soon-to-be national champions, Louisville.

Although the Aggies are struggling in the early part of this season, they have played a difficult non-conference slate – including road games at Georgia Tech, Ole Miss and Rhode Island.

Most of A&T's scoring has come from its dynamic duo of senior guards Lamont Middleton and Richaud Park. Both of whom are averaging over 18 points per contest. Also, 6-7 sophomore forward Bruce Beckford has averaged double-figures scoring (7.6) and a team-best 7.8 rebounds.

"They're athletic, (and) they're similar to the Norfolk State team with two terrific perimeter players. They have athletic inside-guys who got size," said ECU coach Jeff Lebo.

The Pirates are coming off a narrow 77-75 victory against Division II Mount Olive College. Senior shooting guard Akeem Richmond called it "a wake-up call" afterwards, but the more disturbing reality from Sunday's nail-biter was what nearly happened as a result of an off-shooting night from three-point range. ECU drained just 2 of its 16 attempts (13 percent) Sunday.

As for the positives, freshmen Caleb White and Brandan Stith continued their successful starts to their collegiate careers. White has scored in double-figures in each of his last five games – averaging 11.7 points per game on the season – while Stith ranks third in Conference USA in rebounding (10.2 per game) and second among freshman, trailing only Kentucky's Julius Randle.

Due to sophomore forward Marshall Guilmette's season-ending knee injury, Lebo has been forced to throw both players into the fire, rather than easing them onto the floor.

"Brandon, from an athletic standpoint, brings shot-blocking and some athleticism there and rebounding. Caleb can score and gives us some length out there," said Lebo. "We were hoping they were going to get a chance to play some as freshmen and now they are forced to jump in there and play."

Listed as a guard, the 6-7 White has started in every game since Guilmette's injury. Thus, it has forced him to tweak his individual game by developing a presence in the paint.

"I still do pretty much everything that I did before. (Now) there is just an emphasis on the boards and rebounding that they have been pushing at me," said White.

Saturday's game marks the schools' third meeting – ECU leads the all-time series 2-0 – and the first since 2005. The Pirates finished final exams this week, which has allowed the team to solely focus on basketball. Although its attention may not shift elsewhere, ECU is 1-2 in games following exams since Lebo arrived in 2010.

On the contrary, Lebo's Pirates have been on the winning end of nearly 70 percent of games outside of C-USA-play, including wins in 13 of their last 15 non-conference matchups.

Each of A&T's six losses has been on the road this year. The Aggies will be seeking their first win away from Greensboro.

The game will be broadcast on the Pirate IMG Sports Network. Follow IES on Twitter at @InsideECUSports for live updates from Minges Coliseum.

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