Pirates Tip Off C-USA Tournament vs UTSA

EL PASO, TX – No. 12 seed ECU (16-15, 5-11 C-USA) opens Conference USA Tournament play against 13-seeded UTSA (8-21, 4-12 C-USA) Tuesday night at Don Haskins Center.

The East Carolina men's basketball team will begin its last conference tournament as a member of Conference USA Tuesday before the school joins the American Athletic Conference later this year.

The Pirates' (16-15, 5-11 C-USA) first-round opponent is the Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners (8-21, 4-12 C-USA), who they have already beaten 81-71 in Minges Coliseum in February. In that game, ECU's leading scorer Akeem Richmond supplied 31 points, but didn't do so in the fashion we've become accustomed to seeing – with him shooting lights out from three-point range.

Instead, the Roadrunners forced Richmond to put the ball on the floor and earn his points off-the-dribble, yet it did not slow him down. The six-foot shooting guard worked his way to the free throw line often and netted all 15 of his attempts; the most in school-history without a miss.

In last Thursday's loss at Old Dominion, Richmond recorded the 400th 3-pointer of his career despite struggling from behind the arc (1-for-7). In turn, though, he became a member of an elite group of 13 players that have reached the milestone in NCAA history.

"It means a lot to me. It lets me know all my hard work has paid off," said Richmond.

As one of the team's two seniors, Richmond can't help thinking Tuesday night's game could be the last time he puts on an ECU uniform.

"We try not to think too much, but it's definitely in the back of my mind," he said.

If the Pirates were to get past the Roadrunners in the first round of the C-USA Tournament, they would be given the daunting task of facing UTEP, the hosting team. However, this is nothing new for ECU.

After earning a first-round bye in last year's tournament, ECU was matched up against the hosting Tulsa Golden Hurricane, who beat the Pirates 79-72. Richmond understands that experience a season ago won't make winning, for all extensive purposes, a road game any easier.

"It's very unfortunate," he said," but we can't complain about it, we can't cry about it. It is what it is. We work hard just like they do and I got the confidence in my guys that we can get the job done."

Another factor that works against the Pirates (as it has all season long) is their lack of depth, mixed with the fatigue associated with having to win five games in five consecutive days in order to secure a conference championship. Ever since losing forward Marshall Guilmette five games into the season, Coach Jeff Lebo's rotation has been limited to just seven (ocassionally eight) players.

Lebo and his team arrived in El Paso Sunday to grant them time to acclimate to the two-hour time change, in addition to an hour lost due to daylight savings.

"It'll be hard for us because of our lack of depth and … if we can win a game to play again, you're sitting there having a road game stare at you," said Lebo. "It's a tough draw, but in a game anything can happen. So our kids are excited, they know that. They've seen that."

We all have. And to keep spirits high, Lebo has occasionally reminded his team that teams have been in the same situation and won the tournament.

"I talk to them about Syracuse, who won five games in a row a few years back," said Lebo, who is convinced his team can handle playing multiple games on short notice. "They're young. They're used to playing a lot of games. They've played three AAU games in a day, so they certainly can do that."

The health of Paris Roberts-Campbell will also be important if the Pirates are to have any success. The junior shooting guard nearly missed Feb. 27's home finale against Charlotte with a leg injury, but despite playing through it, he was clearly not 100 percent none of ECU's last three games.

Fortunately, Roberts-Campbell said his leg "is getting better," but Lebo added that one of he is "still not 100 percent" going into Tuesday night's game.

You can follow live updates from El Paso on our message boards or on Twitter @InsideECUSports. Tip-off time for ECU-UTSA is set for 10:30 ET at the Don Haskins Center.

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