Pirates are back on track

BUIES CREEK, N.C. – ECU (11-4) regained some of its confidence heading into Conference USA-play after its 79-71 road-victory against Campbell Thursday.

The East Carolina men's basketball team was in danger of falling into an extended slump Thursday night in Buies Creek. The Pirates (11-4) had dropped back-to-back games for the first time this season and were facing a team they had lost their previous two meetings against.

Insert senior shooting guard Akeem Richmond's 37 points, tying his career-high, and school-record 10 3-pointers – And ECU was able to get back on track with a 79-71 confidence-building victory before a hostile crowd at Gore Arena.

"It's hard to win on the road in college basketball. I don't care who you play," said ECU coach Jeff Lebo. "This has been a hard place for us to win ... so any time we can get one on the road that is big for us."

During the two-game skid, Richmond sought out his point guard from last season's CIT-Championship team, Miguel Paul, for motivation going into Thursday's non-conference finale.

"We had a long conversation and he told he wanted me to set the tone heading into Conference USA-play. So that's what I tried to do tonight," he said. "It feels good to have such a long break to prepare, and rest up and get ready for Old Dominion," who will visit Minges Coliseum on Jan. 11.

Another positive has been the quiet progression of current point guard Antonio Robinson. Since taking over the starting duties, the 6-4 Louisburg College transfer has collected 19 assists to just three turnovers in five games combined.

Antonio Robinson has 19 assists to just three turnovers in the last five games
(Kat Jessick/InsideECUSports.com)
Robinson supplied six points, four assists with no turnovers and tied for team-best seven rebounds against Campbell.

"Antonio, late in the game, had three consecutive defensive rebounds and made the foul shots at the end. That was big for us to finish out the game," said Lebo.

Sophomore forward Michael Zangari has officially broken out of his slump and is playing the best basketball of his young career. His 13 points Thursday on a perfect 5-for-5 shooting was his fourth double-figure outing in the last five games.

It isn't all good, though. ECU still has a few glaring concerns going into league-play.

Richmond's spectacular shooting display overshadowed the Pirates' continued struggles in the paint. Campbell dominated the glass – grabbing 18 offensive rebounds, which directly led to 27 second-chance points and 40 points in the paint.

"They name in the game is rebounding and they scored a gazillion (points) on the offensive glass. We did a better job late in the game keeping them to one (shot), but we couldn't keep them off the glass," said Lebo.

One of team's leaders, junior shooting guard Paris Roberts-Campbell, has been unable to recapture his offensive rhythm from the first month of the season – a stretch in which he collected four 20-point performances.

Since dropping 21 points on Dec. 14, Roberts-Campbell's highest scoring output has been 11 points. He had just nine points against the Camels, but played superb defense before fouling out with 5:53 remaining in the game.

After the long lay-off, the Pirates will open their C-USA slate against three of the league's new members, starting with Old Dominion. ECU will then travel to the sunshine state to face Florida Atlantic and Florida International.

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