Ronnie Moore

ECU basketball downs USC Upstate

ECU (5-3) took advantage of USC Upstate's (1-9) lack of size, on its way to a 82-71 victory Friday.

GREENVILLE, N.C. — Fueled by four Pirates in double digits, East Carolina pulled away from South Carolina Upstate and notched a 82-71 victory Friday night in Minges.

B.J. Tyson finished the game with 26 points, his fourth-straight game leading the team in points. Freshman Kentrell Barkley finished behind Tyson with 18 points of his own and Caleb White and Prince Williams notched 13 and 11, respectively.

“I just came in and played my game,” Tyson said. “Coach keeps saying ‘keep attacking, keep attacking’ and if you looked at the game I didn’t take one shot, except for the three. My points all came from attacking the rim.”

Tyson made his presence known early, finishing two alley-oops in the first half. He also converted all eight of his free throws, more evidence of his ability to both attack the rim and opposing defenders. 

The game featured two teams with starkly different offensive philosophies.  The Pirates exerted their will down low, taking advantage of the undersized Spartans, and finishing with 48 points in the paint.

USC Upstate, however, countered with 13 three-pointers on 27 attempts. Guards Mike Cunningham and Deion Holmes found ways to create soft spots in the ECU zone and knocked down nine threes combined 

“It’s not often that the other team shoots 13-of-27 from three and you win,” ECU head coach Jeff Lebo said. “Give the other team credit, they attacked the zone and made shots against it. But I’m really proud of our group because they made shots and attacked the rim.”

The Spartans stuck around throughout the contest and even pulled the game with three points with just under seven minutes gone in the second half, thanks to a Jacob Schulte layup.

ECU began to pull away from its non-conference foe, and after nearly three minutes of scoreless basketball following the Schulte layup, Barkley made a layup to extend the Pirates’ lead to five.

“Kentrell Barkley, I thought, was terrific,” Lebo said. “You look at his numbers, mix in no fouls and you have a pretty good performance.”

Barkley not only was a factor offensively, but the true freshman forward hauled in nine rebounds — good for the team lead in the game.

“I’m just trying to keep the energy up,” Barkley said. “Leading the guys on the floor, bringing energy, they helped me out a lot.”

Lebo added, “He’s a tough kid, I really like him. He’s not afraid or anything, he’s not afraid of any moment and I’ve got a lot of confidence in him when I put him in. It’s nice to look down there, like I did with B.J. (Tyson) and know that I can go there when I need something. He was outstanding tongith and he’s been consistent all year.”

The Pirates continued to capitalize thanks to Lebo’s offensive philosophy of attacking the rim and forcing opposing defenders into bad situations. ECU made its way to the free throw line 32 times and made on 25 of them. The impressive percentage from the charity stripe shows an obvious improvement from last year’s squad that, at times, struggled to hit its free throws.

“We drove it good the last couple times,” Lebo said. “We’ve played against some extended defenses and we’re able to get in there with no shot blockers. Shooting isn’t a strength of ours, from the perimeter. What we’re better at is taking the ball to the rim and I thought we did that well tonight.”

Senior forward Mike Zangari hauled in six rebounds and notched seven points but fouled out in the second half. Kanu Aja grabbed a rebound and scored three points while Lance Tejada and Clarence Williams got on the scoreboard with two points of their own.

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