White Explodes as ECU Blows Past UCF

GREENVILLE, N.C. — Caleb White's game-high 21 points and career-best nine rebounds led ECU (10-13, 3-7 AAC) to a 67-49 victory over UCF (9-13, 2-9 AAC) at Minges Coliseum Saturday.

Over an hour before tipoff of Saturday’s game between East Carolina and UCF, Pirates’ guard Caleb White was out on the Minges Coliseum floor — loosening up with assistant coach Mike Netti, running a drill that forced him finish at the rim with contact.

It was just the two of them, and during the roughly 20-minute exercise, there were few misses. Once the game began an hour later, White smoothly soared to the rim on several occasions — often times with contact too — and rarely missed.

He finished with a game-high 21 points on 9-for-13 shooting to lead ECU to a 67-49 victory over UCF.

It was just the second time this season White had eclipsed the 20-point plateau and the first time since the turn of the calendar that he scored more than 14 points. His season-high was the 24-point outing he turned in against UNC Asheville on Nov. 16.

“I was just a little more aggressive,” White said of what made him so effective Saturday. “I usually don’t break 10 attempts a lot, so (ECU coach Jeff Lebo) told me to be really aggressive and look for my shot more.”

Mostly because of size limitations stemming from injuries, the 6-foot-7 White was asked to be more of a stretch forward as a freshman last season and struggled to grab rebounds. However, he cited those experiences, in addition to Lebo frequently challenging him to improve in the rebounding department, as the resources that have helped him become more comfortable on the glass.

“It was really all about embracing it,” said White. “Last year it was like a culture shock to me being down there. They had big monsters down there, so I’ve just embraced it. I’ve gotten stronger too and I think that helps a lot down there.”

When asked about what has contributed to White’s growth as a rebounder, Lebo outlined a set of physicality drills he has turned to in order to test the sophomore’s toughness.

“They are not fun and they are not fashionable. They are not something that you put on Youtube to send to your recruits, but they are helping him,” he said of the drills he has put White and the Pirates (10-13, 3-7 AAC) through. “They are helping us get better, and get stronger and tougher and this league is about that. (White) needs to grow quickly to play in this league.”

Once again, the Pirates utilized a familiar recipe for success with a variation of different zone defenses while running a more patient offense.

ECU turned over UCF (9-13, 2-9 AAC) 17 times, which resulted in 19 points off turnovers, while the visiting Knights shot an abysmal 2-for-16 from 3-point range. On the other side of the floor, ECU had 16 assists on the other side of the floor to just 10 turnovers.

“We’re playing much better basketball,” said Lebo. “We’ve kind of found a style that keeps us in games so far and that’s been our zone. We’re getting better at that and our kids have some confidence in it.”

With ECU trailing 18-14, White began to find a groove. He sparked a 10-0 outburst with a layup and finished it with a 3-pointer. Sandwiched between White’s baskets was a B.J. Tyson 3-pointer that broke an 18-18 tie for the game’s final lead change. The Pirates closed the half on a 17-4 run and went into the halftime locker room with a 31-22 lead.

White led four double-figure scorers for ECU. But in the second half, it was guards Terry Whisnant and Tyson putting the game away.

Whisnant hit a pair of big 3s in the second half to pad the Pirates’ lead on his way to 11 points that was soon followed by a thunderous one-handed slam by B.J. Tyson, which he ranked a 10 out of 10 in his postgame interview, to stretch ECU’s lead to 58-40. Tyson finished with 10 points.

On the Pirates’ next trip up the floor following the dunk, forward Michael Zangari went down with an apparent left leg injury while attempting a shot. Helped off by two teammates, Zangari, who scored into double-figures (10 points) for the first time since Nov. 25, hobbled off the floor without putting any pressure on his leg.

“We’re hopeful that he’ll be okay. Just a twist, maybe,” said Lebo.

UCF junior forward Staphon Blair booked a team-best 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Two other Knights supplied double-figure scoring performances, including Brandon Goodwin, who had 10 points and a team-best eight boards.

ECU constantly attacked the rim offensively, scoring 44 points in the paint, and outrebounded UCF 37-33 Saturday.

The Pirates, who have now won back-to-back games on their home floor, will stay in Greenville to host Memphis Tuesday night. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at Minges Coliseum and the game will broadcast on ESPNU.

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