East Carolina takes 2-0 record into meeting with Wolfpack
After starting the Jeff Lebo era with back-to-back double-digit wins over Erskine (74-46) and Campbell (76-63), East Carolina will now head south to the Charleston Classic where it will face much stiffer competition. The Pirates will play in-state rival and Atlantic Coast Conference foe NC State on Thursday at 6 p.m. The winner of that contest will meet the winner of Charlotte and George Mason on Friday. The other four teams in the eight-team event are No. 20 Georgetown, Coastal Carolina, Wofford, and USC-Upstate.
ECU (2-0) is awaiting the status of senior point guard Brock Young and senior center Chad Wynn–both of whom are regular starters. Young, a Raleigh native and the program’s career assist leader, is day-to-day after not suiting up on Monday against Campbell. He continues to return to form following offseason knee surgery and his presence would greatly enhance the Pirates chances of pulling the upset. Wynn, who has not played since the first half of last Friday’s season opener versus Erskine due to an injured foot, was scheduled for an MRI today (Tuesday). Wynn’s status is also very important to East Carolina’s chances against the Wolfpack, as the Pirates are also already without the services of post player DaQuan Joyner. Joyner fractured a bone in his foot and will be in a boot for atleast another two weeks.
Without Young, the other members of the backcourt needed to pick up their games and they have done so. Corvonn Gaines has scored just 14 points through two games, but the brother of former Louisville star Reece Gaines has played all but nine minutes to date and performed well overall. The second-year Pirate has done a little bit of everything. Gaines, who is the younger brother of former Louisville star Reece Gaines, has pulled down nine rebounds, dished out eight assists, and collected nine steals. Senior Jontae Sherrod is averaging 15 points after scoring a career-high 21 against Campbell on Monday night. Erin Straughn has scored 12 points in each of the first two games and is 5-of-11 from three-point range. The sophomore has also pulled down a team-high 14 rebounds.
Jamar Abrams, Darrius Morrow and Darius Morales lead the Pirates in the post. Abrams, who is really a swingman, is 6-of-11 from three-point range and could create some match-up issues. Morrow, a junior, must carry the weight down low with Wynn and Joyner out. He averaged 12.6 points and 6.5 rebounds last season. Morales has averaged 7 points and 2.5 rebounds through the first two games of his redshirt freshman campaign.
The Wolfpack, who possess an 18-1 advantage in the all-time series with East Carolina, will bring a 1-0 mark into the game. Fifth-year coach Sidney Lowe’s squad secured an 82-69 victory over Tennessee Tech in its season opener. It held a slim three-point lead at the half before pulling away after the break. The Pack was outrebounded 47-37 by the Golden Eagles, but shot nearly twice as many free throws (41-22). They converted 31 of those attempts from the charity stripe.
Another deciding factor in that contest was NCSU’s ability to protect the basketball. It committed just nine turnovers while forcing 19. Lowe used ten players against Tennessee Tech, but eight players logged most of the minutes. The Pack received nearly half its points from its bench. CJ Leslie, a 6’8 freshman, came in to score a game-high 21 points. He also grabbed six boards and swatted six shots in his first game in the red and white. Guard Ryan Harrow tallied 16 points and four assists in 24 minutes. Lorenzo Brown (6-0, 176, Sr), Scott Wood (6’6, 177, So.) and Tracy Smith (6-8, 255, Sr) also scored in double figures for NCSU.
While East Carolina’s two victories have been against Division II opponent Erskine and Campbell, the Pirates have shown improvement early under first-year coach Jeff Lebo. The Pirates appear to be putting forth much more effort than they did a season ago.
Now, it’s time to see how the Pirates will fair when they play tougher competition.
Typically, an early season, neutral court game between in-state rivals might be a recipe for a potential upset to occur. However, with all-conference point guard Brock Young and starting center Chad Wynn possibly being unavailable, it’s tough to see the Pirates surprising NC State in this game. Expect the Pack to win this one by 10-15 if those veteran Pirates don’t play significant minutes–which will likely be the case.