Wolfpack on the horizon

ECU (10-2) goes on the road to PNC Arena in Raleigh to face N.C. State (8-2) Saturday at Noon. Here's our preview.

Both East Carolina and North Carolina State enter Saturday afternoon's meeting at PNC Arena playing their best basketball of the young season.

The Pirates (10-2) won their fourth consecutive game, 103-94, against VMI on Thursday, while the Wolfpack (8-2) are on six-game winning streak since their surprising home loss to North Carolina Central on Nov. 20.

N.C. State is coming off an impressive 65-58 win against Tennessee Wednesday night in Knoxville led by sophomore T.J. Warren's double-double – 21 points and 11 rebounds. The 6-8, 215-pound forward ranks sixth nationally in points per game (23.3).

Freshman Anthony "Cat" Barber has taken over the reins at point guard for Head Coach Mark Gottfried, but similar to ECU, the Wolfpack has struggled to find a back-to-the-basket scorer in the post outside of Warren. Senior 7-footer Jordan Vandenburg has averaged just 7 points per game after missing the first four games of the season.

Although the Pirates are winning, coach Jeff Lebo is still in the process of manufacturing an offense that can consistently stand up against Division I competition. Thursday night was a blue-print of how he would like his team to play.

Despite off-shooting nights from its two leading-scorers Akeem Richmond and Paris Roberts-Campbell, ECU eclipsed the 100-point barrier for the first time this season and first time against a Division I team since 2000.

More importantly, the Pirates scored a season-high 44 points in the paint and dominated VMI in rebounds 35-22. Sophomore Michael Zangari recorded a career scoring high 17 points and freshman Brandan Stith had his third double-double of the season – 10 points and 10 rebounds. Also, Pirate guards were able to penetrate and score and when the shot was not there, dish out 21 assists as a team to just 11 turnovers.

Sophomore point guard and Raleigh native Prince Williams had a career-high 22 points and after falling just short at North Carolina and Duke in just over the span of a year, he feels the team is playing confident right now and is ready to seize the moment at N.C. State.

"I think (Thursday's win) gives us a lot of momentum going into that game, a lot of confidence," said Williams. "It would mean a lot going in there, especially on the road, against an ACC team … We know it will be tough, but I think we can pull it out on the road."

It would be just ECU's second win against an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent – It beat Sidney Lowe's Wolfpack in a 2007 meeting in Minges Coliseum – but the Pirates put a scare into then-sixth-ranked Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Nov. 19.

Just like that game in Cameron, ECU is going into Saturday's game on a quick turnaround, which has dictated the way Lebo has approached the Wolfpack.

"On a quick turnaround, we will try to keep it simple with our game-plan." he told reporters. "Obviously, with a young team we can't get too complicated with one day and (we will) go over there and hopefully compete against a team I think is an improving team; a team that will get better as the season goes on. They got some parts. It should hopefully be a fun game for us over there."

N.C. State leads the all-time series against ECU 19-1 and has won the last two meetings, including an 85-65 victory in Lebo's first year (2010). That game was played in Charleston, S.C.

The game will be televised regionally one of the ACC's regional cable networks and on the radio side, broadcast on the Pirate IMG Sports Network. Tip-off time is set for Noon.

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