Pirates' Improved Defense Faces Test at UConn

GREENVILLE, N.C. -- East Carolina's defensive turnaround culminated with a Super Bowl Sunday win versus Cincinnati. Now the Pirates hit the road to face defending national champions Connecticut.

Super Bowl Sunday marked East Carolina’s best defensive performance to date. The Pirates held Cincinnati—one of the best the American Athletic Conference had to offer—to a mere 46 points en route to their second win in league play.

Weeks before that, the defensive turning point was a 66-61 win versus Houston on Jan. 14. The Cougars, like the Pirates, were winless in conference action, but boasted a strong three-point shooter in Jherrod Stiggers. He had made 14 of 36 shots from long range in four conference games heading into the meeting. ECU’s defense, with Terry Whisnant guarding him, held Stiggers to zero points from beyond the arc.

As a transfer from Florida State, Whisnant brings with him defensive intelligence learned from Seminoles head coach Leonard Hamilton. In 2011-12, Whisnant’s freshman year in Tallahassee, Florida State ranked fifth in shooting defense by holding opponents to a 38.1-percent success rate from the field.

“Just stance and getting on ball screens,” said Whisnant of what lessons he’s trying to teach the Pirates on defense. “Just being consistent and being in the right place at the right time when you’re of the ball.”

The defense didn’t come together right then and there, though. ECU surrendered at least 70 points in two of its following three games before riding its best defensive outing to the program’s first win versus Cincinnati.

The Pirates, running a 2-3 zone, hid their weaknesses and emphasized their strengths. Despite their obvious lack of size down low, the Bearcats were only able to grab three more rebounds.

Antonio Robinson proved to be the difference maker on defense. Even though he didn’t score, he swarmed the Bearcat guards and finished the game with five steals.

“I enjoy it. I’m trying to get my hands on every ball if I deflect it to my teammates or if I grab it. The 2-3, I enjoy it,” said the 6-foot-4 guard.

Whisnant added, “In practice we’ve been hard on defense. It’s something that, in order to beat these top teams, we’re going to have to be able to do. We’ve been doing that in practice and trying to carry it over to games.”

Just days after such an exceptional defensive showcase, ECU will face one of its toughest challenges when it travels to Storrs, Conn. to take on defending national champions Connecticut. The Pirates’ defense will need to be at its very best once again to stand a chance against the Huskies’ offense.

Ryan Boatright stands as the conference’s deadliest threat on offense. He leads scoring with 17.5 points per game and also dishes another 4.4 assists on average.

“If we (defend him) as a team, I think we’ll be alright,” said Robinson.

It’s not going to come down to just defense. ECU is going to have to bounce back from a sloppy shooting display its last time out, too. The team shot just under 40 percent and only hit 4-of-19 from beyond the arc.

While Robinson was the difference maker on defense, freshman guard B.J. Tyson was the Pirates’ lone impact player on offense. He had just seven points in his last three games, but notched 18 versus Cincinnati.

Whisnant—ECU’s leading scorer—only had four points. Even though one of his two baskets was a key layup that tied the game with 1:47 to play, he didn’t make any of his six three-point attempts. Caleb White also finished with four points, so the two of them are going to have to add up to more on offense to keep up with the Huskies.

This first meeting between ECU and UConn tips off at 7 p.m. on Feb. 4. Watch the game on ESPNU or follow the action on the Pirates IMG Network.


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