East Carolina (12-15, 5-9 American Athletic Conference) sits at eighth place in its league, but the Pirates are aiming for their fifth straight win in Minges Coliseum when they host the defending champions.
Connecticut (15-11, 8-6 AAC) travels to Greenville three weeks after defeating the Pirates 65-52 in Storrs, Conn. ECU led the game at halftime and B.J. Tyson shined with 20 points. UConn scored 38 points in the second half, on the back of Ryan Boatright, to claim the win.
One problem was that ECU didn’t get much scoring from Caleb White and Terry Whisnant—the team’s other leading scorers. White finished with 11, which is only a notch below his average, but Whisnant only hit a pair of threes for his six points. The Pirates average just over eight made treys a game, but last time proved they’ll need to find scoring elsewhere.
They tried that three weeks ago, but didn’t find much success. Forwards Marshall Guilmette and Michel Nzege combined for just 10 points and the team had just 16 points in the paint. They were also outrebounded 32-21, which was part of the reason they only had five second-chance points.
All the while, ECU did its best to protect the paint. Nzege’s aggression down low against 7-foot Amida Brimah cost him two fouls early on. Brimah and the Huskies scored 24 points in the paint.
The Pirates have been working on ways to secure the inside more. Recently they’ve been playing some other forwards not necessarily to score, but shutdown the opposition. Keith Armstrong played 18 minutes at Tulsa and, even though the Golden Hurricane scored 30 in the paint, he proved to be a physical presence. Kanu Aja has also been called off the bench for a couple of minutes over the last couple of weeks.
Head coach Jeff Lebo will look to Guilmette as a go-to scoring option down low. ECU’s last time out was a weekend home game versus South Florida, which saw Guilmette explode for 13 points. He was 4-for-6 from the field, including a trey, and made four of his five attempts from the charity stripe.
Beyond their play on the inside, the Pirates will need to be aggressive on all aspects of defense. Antonio Robinson and Whisnant are cornerstones of their defense. They’ve played a big part in ECU getting double-digit steals in four of their last five games.
This matchup marks the first ever time a defending national champion visits Minges Coliseum. ECU hopes it can use a win over UConn to propel it into its final three games of the season before it’s time for the conference championship.