Just a few days ago, East Carolina led the defending national champions Connecticut Huskies 34-27 at halftime. The Pirates, who had just come off an upset win over Cincinnati, had one of their best 20 minutes of shooting after going 8-for-13 from long range in the first half.
UConn caught on and adjusted to defend ECU on the perimeter. The Pirates only made three shots from beyond the arc in the second en route to 65-52 loss, making them 0-6 when making 10 or more treys.
“It’s a learning experience,” said freshman guard B.J. Tyson about the team’s inability to win despite exceptional three-point shooting. He shot a perfect 4-for-4 from beyond the arc against UConn and finished with 20 points. “You just have to come in, keep fighting, keep working hard and keep shooting and hopefully our defense will pay it off.”
What ECU needs to learn from these experiences is to find scoring from elsewhere. Perimeter scoring will still be necessary, but it’s proven it won’t translate to wins. Not only will finding other options—whether they be inside in the paint or mid-range jumpers—supplement scoring, but it may also open up things around the Pirates’ beloved perimeter.
Finding a way inside will also help ECU get to the foul line, which has been another scoring weakness. The Pirates have only attempted 11 free throws in their last three games.
“We are still limited, in some ways, offensively,” said head coach Jeff Lebo. “We can’t get to the foul line, we can’t get anything back to the basket and we have a hard time getting anything easy. So we’ve had multiple games where we have really shot it well from three and not turned it over, but still haven’t scored a lot of points…that’s been our issue more than anything.”
Forward Michel Nzege is one player that has focused on getting baskets from elsewhere heading into Saturday’s game versus Central Florida. He’s been an option at the rim, but some of this conference’s big men have made that tough. He only made one basket when being defended by the 7-foot Huskie center Amida Brimah.
“We’re working hard each and every day to try and help the team,” said Nzege. “We’re trying to get open jump shots. Marshall (Guilmette) can knock down threes. I haven’t taken a lot of open jump shots, but I’m trying to do the little things I can to produce like drive from the perimeter or the high post, try and get some buckets closer or if I get the chance to get a pick-and-pop.”
Nzege continued, “Marshall and I have to push through and get something better. The guards are doing their job, but it’s also our job to help the team win by giving something on the offensive end.”
Nzege faces two more big presences down low when UCF visits Minges Coliseum. The Knights have a 6-foot-10, 325-pound center in Justin McBride. Then there’s the 6-foot-11, 240-pound forward Dylan Karell. Whether it’s Michael Zangari, Guilmette, or Nzege, it’s going to be hard for the Pirates to establish themselves at the rim.
Aside from scoring, the other half of their challenge will come on the boards. ECU’s forwards won’t be alone crashing for rebounds, though, as the Pirate guards have chipped in, too. Tyson is averaging 4.4 rebounds a game and led ECU on the glass against UConn with six boards.
UCF has a freshman guard that brings something similar to the table as Tyson. B.J. Taylor leads the Knights with just over 14 points a game, as well as 2.5 assists. With Terry Whisnant’s status for Saturday questionable, ECU may struggle to defend Taylor.
ECU and UCF will reignite a former Conference USA rivalry Saturday. The two sides will both look for their third win in the American Athletic Conference. Tip-off is scheduled for 5 p.m. and the action can be followed on ESPN3 or on the Pirates IMG Network.