East Carolina basketball got its first taste of elite competition this season in the form of 12th-ranked North Carolina. The Tar Heels used their size and raw talent to overwhelm the Pirates en route to a 108-64 victory.
Even in losing, the team’s freshmen and newcomers were able to learn a lot from the trip to Chapel Hill. The game was a sort of preview for what’s to come in conference play.
B.J. Tyson played 23 minutes off the bench and Lance Tejada played 19. The experience was surreal for them in that it’s the kind of game a player dreams about playing in. However, it also taught them how to approach a top-tier opponent like UNC.
“You have to be really mentally prepared for a game like that,” said Tyson, who is the team’s leading scorer. “Carolina was very big and very long, also. There are other team like that: UConn, Cincinnati, SMU, Houston, UCF. There are a lot more that are big like that.”
Tejada added, “It really showed our weakness right now. It showed that we’ve got work to do, but it was a good experience and we took something from that.”
Tyson only made two of his 13 shots, but finished with 13 points by getting to the free-throw line. Tejada added another eight points. As a team, the Pirates only shot 33 percent from the floor.
Moreover, UNC was able to exploit ECU’s lack of presence down low. The Tar Heels scored 72 of their 108 points in the paint and outrebounded 51-29.
“I think it’s good that we went ahead and played a team that’s bigger and tough like that so we can know how it feels when we go into conference play,” said Tyson. “We’ll know what to bring when it comes down to playing teams like that.”
That’s nothing unexpected. Lebo and the players knew coming into this season that they’d be an undersized and inexperienced team.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” said Lebo. “We’re young. Our leading scorer is a freshman. Tejada is a freshman playing a lot of minutes. Obviously, we’re banged up again. That’s the one thing we couldn’t have.”
So, even though the chemistry is coming along and freshmen like Tyson and Tejada are fitting in nicely, there are still key components missing. Marshall Guilmette and Paris Roberts-Campbell are both out indefinitely with injuries.
For the time being, though, the team’s younger players gained something by having to play at that kind of level in that kind of environment. That experience will help the Pirates as they return home to take on James Madison on Saturday.