East Carolina basketball gained confidence heading into its first American Athletic Conference game. The Pirates, who have won back-to-back games for the first time this season, host Tulane Wednesday at noon in Minges Coliseum.
ECU closed out the non-conference portion of its schedule with home wins versus Florida A&M and UNC Greensboro. Both games featured decisive wins in favor of the Pirates. Their 21-point win over UNCG on Sunday was the largest winning differential through the first 13 games.
“The first half was the best we’ve played all year,” said head coach Jeff Lebo. ECU shot 72.7 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes and Terry Whisnant scored 14 points. “Offensively, we shared the ball and shot the ball well… We defended very well.”
Being able to string together some wins for the first time this season proved important. As a team, the Pirates have spent the first month and a half of the season coming into their own. New faces have been assimilating into the team. They’ve also been eagerly awaiting the return of key players such as Paris Roberts-Campbell, who made his season debut on Dec. 20 versus UNC Wilmington.
“I think it’s important as far as far as getting confident as a team and finding our identity,” said Caleb White, who scored 14 points in his last outing before conference play. “I think we played really well and played up to our abilities. Hopefully we can keep that moving.”
Even though ECU is still without another key piece in Marshall Guilmette and scoring consistency isn’t quite there, the Pirates learned a lot in their last outing before conference action. The players are becoming more confident in execution of the game plan laid out by coaches.
“It does a lot when you get shots going and you hit shots you practice every day. You feel confident in your preparation,” said White.
With a 9-3 record, the Green Wave boasts the best non-conference performance in the American. Granted, Tulane played all but two of its first 12 games at home. Even so, it earned a four-win clean sweep in the Tulane Tournament, which it obviously played host to. Limited experiences with road games may play to ECU’s advantage.
In order to come out victorious in its first game in the American, ECU will need to stay strong on defense—especially down low. In six of their seven wins on the season, the Pirates have held the opposition to under 60 points.
The Pirates will have to continue to battle on the glass, too. Even though ECU has out-rebounded four of its last seven opponents by a margin of 26, UNCG was able to grab 14 offensive boards last time out. UNCG grabbed 14 offensive boards against ECU, so the Pirate forwards will have to be better on the glass—especially on defense.
ECU and Tulane are averaging about the same points per game, but the Pirates have a scoring edge in the trio of Whisnant, White and freshman guard B.J. Tyson. The three average just north of 40 points a game. The only better trio in the American is UConn’s Ryan Boatwright, Daniel Hamilton and Amida Brimah.
Tip-off is scheduled for noon in Minges. The game can be viewed on ESPNews or heard on the Pirates IMG Network.