Tristen Newton

Sophomore guard Tristen Newton powers through JMU defenders during the Pirates' win over the Dukes.

The East Carolina University men’s basketball team (7-2, 1-2 American Athletic Conference) has had a strong start to the season, going undefeated in non-conference play for the first time in program history and currently has the second best overall record in the AAC.

ECU’s first loss of the season came at the hands of Southern Methodist University (5-0, 1-0 American Athletic Conference). The loss came after a 5-0 start to the season for the Pirates, but the team bounced back with two straight wins over James Madison University (3-3, 0-0 Colonial Athletic Conference) and Tulane University (6-2, 1-2 American Athletic Conference).

The Pirates’ second loss of the season was in the second game against Tulane on Dec 2. ECU shot 37% from the field and 38.5% from three. Both percentages were higher than Tulane’s. The Green Wave shot 36.2% overall from the field and 31.6% from three. Despite the strong defensive effort, the Pirates still lost 60-56.

The current 7-2 overall start is ECU’s best nine game start since the 2016-2017 season when the Pirates were coached by Jeff Lebo. The Pirates started that season 7-2 overall as well. This season’s solid start is in large part due to strong play from upperclassmen this year.

ECU is once again led in points by junior forward Jayden Gardner. Gardner led the team in points scored in both the 2019-2020 and 2018-2019 seasons. Gardner averages 17 points, a team-high 7.3 rebounds and one assist per game while he shoots 48.2% from the field and 78.4% from the free throw line, according to ESPN.

Gardner’s numbers are a slight step back from what he averaged in his sophomore year. In his second collegiate season Gardner averaged 19.7 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists a game while he shot 52.1% from the floor and 73.4% from the free throw line, according to ESPN.

The next highest scoring Pirate is senior guard J.J. Miles. Miles has taken a step forward from last year. In the 2019-20 season, Miles averaged just 7.5 points on 35.9% from the field, 32.2% from three and 56.3% from the free throw line. This season, Miles averages 10.2 points per game on much better efficiency. According to ESPN, Miles shoots 48% from the field, 52.2% from three and 100% from the free throw line.

Overall, the Pirates’ offense has not been very impressive so far this year. According to Teamrankings.com, the Pirates are No. 182 in the country in points per game, No. 192 in effective field goal percentage, No. 238 in two point field goal percentage and No. 169 in overall shooting efficiency.

The Pirates’ strong start comes in large part to its good defensive play. According to teamrankings.com, the Pirate’s have only allowed an average of 63.4 points per game which is No. 49 in the country. Their defense has allowed their opponents an effective field goal percentage of just 45.5% which comes in at No. 53 in the country as well, according to teamrankings.com.

The Pirate defense has allowed opponents to make just an average of 21.6 field goals a game and give up just 32.1 points in the second half of games. These averages come in at No. 31 and No. 32 respectively in the country according to teamrankings.com.

ECU’s next game will be against The University of South Florida (5-4, 1-2 AAC). The game will be played at Williams Arena in Minges Coliseum on Jan. 9, with tipoff scheduled for 1 p.m.

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