Freshman guard Kalib LaCount scans the court for an opening as he makes his way down the court.

Freshman guard Kalib LaCount scans the court for an opening as he makes his way down the court.

The East Carolina University men’s basketball team (10-7, 1-3 American Athletic Conference) is on track to finish this season with a better record than its previous 2021-2022 season in which its record was 15-15, 6-11 AAC.

This is ECU’s first season with Head Coach Michael Schwartz, who previously led the University of Tennessee as an associate head coach to the best-scoring defense in the Southeastern Conference during the 2018, 2021, and 2022 seasons, according to ECUPirates. All three assistant coaches are new to the program as well.

As a team that just installed new coaches and has a young roster, the team has been coming together quicker than most. The team went 11-4 in the 2021-2022 season for non-conference games and during this season they had the same amount of losses in non-conference games.

The turning point for ECU will be if they remain solid and pull through with the win in the games that have been close this season so far. On Jan. 4, the Pirates lost to the University of Central Florida (UCF) (11-4, 2-1 AAC) by three points.

Since the 2019-2020 season, the Pirates have lost to the Knights at least once by three or four points. In the other meetings between the teams during the 2019-2022 in which they lost by three to four points, East Carolina still lost by seven points or more. If ECU can pull through with a win against UCF in the second meeting of this season on March 5, then it will show the Pirates can win in a close game situation.

The Pirates are 3-3 in games with under a 10 point margin in the season this far. If the Pirates could produce more points and have a winning record in games within 10 points, then it would help the team clutch a winning record. As East Carolina has a .675 percentage in free throws in the season, this could be improved to help the team win the closer games.

The latest game of the season against the University of Memphis (12-4, 2-1 AAC) on Jan. 7 was the Pirates' six straight lead at halftime. Of the six games three of them are losses. In all the losses ECU was out-scored but still put up more than thirty points except in the second half against Memphis.

The first half the score was 33-25, but the second half points were 44-26 Memphis. ECU lost the lead five minutes into the second and Memphis was relentless and scored 15 consecutive points. East Carolina had a couple of scoreless periods during the second half that kept the team from pulling ahead.

ECU sophomore forward Brandon Johnson led the team with 15 points and currently leads the American in double doubles. His high of the season was 24 on Nov. 8, 2022 and averages 13 points per game (PPG), which is triple his average at the end of the 2021-2022 season.

The leading scorer for the Pirates this season is sophomore guard Javon Small as he averages 15 PPG. In the loss against UCF on Jan. 4, Small only locked in five points and did not score until there was five minutes left in the second half. The game against the Knights was his lowest-scoring game of the season, as in the second lowest he scored nine points which occurred twice this season.

Johnson has led the team in scoring for the past five games and Small only had double digits in three of the five games. Johnson averages nine rebounds a game and leads the team with 145 in the season.

The Pirates next game will be against the University of Cincinnati (11-5, 2-1 AAC) on Jan. 11 at 9 p.m. who average 79 ppg compared to the Pirates’ 70 ppg. Last season, ECU lost all three meetings but the highest score margin of the three games was 11 points. However, the ppg for both teams last season were lower and closer to each other.

ECU needs to make their free throws and keep turnovers to a minimum in order to be close enough to pull a win against the Bearcats.

A win in both games against the University of South Florida (7-8, 0-2 AAC), Wichita State University (7-8, 0-3 AAC) and the University of Tulsa (4-10, 0-3 AAC) will be needed if the Pirates want to have a fighting chance in the conference. These are the teams who currently stand below ECU in the AAC.

A win against Southern Methodist University (6-9, 1-1 AAC) is possible because of the rough season the Mustangs are enduring. A win against UCF and Temple University (9-8,3-1 AAC) could be pulled off if East Carolina remains solid through both halves. As in the two point loss against Temple on Dec. 28, 2022, the Pirates were simply outscored in the second half by three points.

East Carolina has a chance to have a winning record for the first time since the 2012-2013 season. There were two seasons in between in which the Pirates split the season and had a .500 percentage which were the 2013-2014 season and the 2021-2022 season.

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