East Carolina returns home after consecutive road wins at UCF and Marshall
After closing out the program’s best road trip in recent memory with a dramatic last-second win at Marshall on Saturday, East Carolina returns home to square off with Southern Miss on Wednesday night. The Pirates (11-8, 3-2), who are coming off a brutal stretch where they played four games in eight days in three states, demonstrated tremendous mental toughness in its 82-81 win over the Thundering Herd. They trailed by as many as 15 in the first half and were still down seven with less than two minutes remaining in the game. However, they hung tough despite the hot-shooting of Marshall and pulled out the victory when Darrius Morrow convered a free-throw to complete a three-point play with five seconds left. The Herd had no answer for the junior post player, as Morrow posted a career-high 33 points while also grabbing a team-high eight rebounds. Senior shooting guard Jontae Sherrod, who tops the team in scoring at 14.8 per game, finished with 19 points–marking his fourth straight contest with at least 16 points. Veteran point guard Brock Young, who averages four assists per game, had his best all-around game of the season. The Pirates’ all-time assist leader finished with 16 points and eight assists. When you start winning, each game becomes that much bigger and you no longer fly under the radar. Therefore, it will be interesting to see how the Pirates respond to the challenges that lie ahead now that they’ve produced a surprising 3-2 start in Conference USA play. First-year coach Jeff Lebo talked to his club about the importance of keeping its nose to the grindstone.
“I talked to my team about people are going to be patting you on the back, telling you that you’ve arrived and you’ve figured out how to win and all that stuff, but no one cares about what happens in the past. They only care about what’s going to happen in the future and they won’t pat you on the back if you come in here and lay an egg against Southern Miss. We need to keep playing hard and understand who and what we are as a team. If we do that, good things will continue to happen for us.” Southern Miss (14-5, 3-3) has its best team in quite sometime under seventh-year coach Larry Eustachy. The former Iowa State coach had the Golden Eagles on the brink of the Top 25 before they dropped both games last week. It looked as though the week would start on a winning note, as USM built an 18-point first-half advantage against Memphis. However, Eustachy’s club was unable to hold that lead and wound up losing by one on a last second three-pointer.
They were unable to bounce back on Saturday, as the Eagles dropped a 79-65 decision in Dallas to SMU. The Golden Eagles are led by the very talented and versatile Gary Flowers. Flowers, a 6’8″ senior, leads CUSA in scoring at 20.6 points per game and shoots 42.9 percent from three. He leads the team in rebounding with 7.2 per contest while also swatting nearly two shots. Senior R.L. Horton also averages in double figures at 12 points per game. LaShay Page is second on the team in three-pointers made with 25 while freshman guard D.J. Newbill is second in rebounding at 6.1. Newbill is also third in scoring (9.2). Southern Miss holds an 8-7 lead in the all-time series with East Carolina. However, the Golden Eagles have won three straight and eight of the last nine against the Pirates. Check out the selection of ECU apparel & merchandise in the CUSA Fans Team Fan Shop!
How will the Pirates handle its recent mild taste of success? Will they be able to build on the momentum they’ve generated and continue to progress? They will be playing before what will likely be the largest home crowd of the season to date and against a team that is looking to snap a two-game skid. Southern Miss is 4-3 on the road, but it is just 1-2 away from Green Coliseum in league play. Their win was by three in overtime at Rice, while they were mauled by 30 at Marshall and beaten by 14 by SMU. The Golden Eagles are producing over 77 points per contest, but have scored just 65 in two of their three road league games. Expect a competitive game, but East Carolina will do what it takes to capture a hardfought victory and improve to 8-2 at Williams Arena-Minges Coliseum.