In just six games, East Carolina University’s men's basketball team has begun digging itself into a hole it will look to try and climb out of tonight against the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. However, the Pirates will be without former head coach Jeff Lebo who resigned yesterday.
Junior guard Kentrell Barkley spoke briefly on Lebo’s resignation and what needs to be done against UNCW tonight.
“I’m disturbed by the news but we have to keep moving forward and try to get this basketball program going in another direction,” Barkley said. “That’s my focus right now. We have a game tomorrow and I hope we can come out and play hard. There are things we can do well and we can get a W.”
ECU (2-4) has been notorious for starting seasons strong, then folding come conference play. But this year, it is off to its worst six-game start since the 2009-10 season. Now, already two games under .500, the Pirates will face the Seahawks (2-3), last year’s Colonial Athletic Association Conference champion, who also made a brief appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Fortunately for the Pirates, UNCW has also stumbled coming out of the gates. Mike Perry, ECU’s interim coach, knows the Seahawks are going to come to Minges hot.
“In 24 hours we have an opponent that could care less about what happened here today and are going to try and beat us,” Perry said.
After losing three of the team's top four scorers from their 29-6 season, the Seahawks are transitioning to their current roster while losing to lesser opponents like Davidson College (Nov. 14), Loyola University at Chicago (Nov. 24) and Valparaiso University (Nov. 25). Even though they aren't as experienced of a team as last season, Wilmington returns key players such as point guards Jordon Talley and Devontae Cacok, who are the team’s two leading scorers.
"They have two good players in two important areas at the point guard position in Tailey and inside with Cacock that are experienced guys that have been through the wars and are playing very well for them," former ECU head coach Jeff Lebo said after the loss to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.
For the Pirates, one of the toughest problems to overcome early this season has been the pressure put on team leaders such as guards Kentrell Barkley and B.J. Tyson. The team’s two leading scorers, Tyson (14.5) and Barkley (13.2), also lead the team in minutes played and are the only two playing more than 30 minutes per game this season. Sitting for less than 10 minutes a game may be manageable this early in the season, but it can also lead to games such as the one Barkley had away against Rutgers University.
Last Friday, the Pirates played their first game on the road, taking a trip up to New Jersey to play the Scarlet Knights, coming away with a 61-47 loss. While the loss was bad, what was even worse for the Pirates was Barkley scoring zero points on 0-for-6 shooting. To overcome a team leader not contributing, it would take the rest of the team to step up, something that didn't happen for ECU. Only five of the 10 players who saw the court managed to score a point with Jabari Craig and Isaac Fleming leading the way (14 each), then Tyson (8), Dimitri Spasojevic (6) and finishing with Shawn Williams (5).
"We have so much pressure on Kentrell and B.J. to play well and then the other guys have to play at a really high level," Lebo said. "If we have one guy, our margin for error is so small that if we have one guy not show up or not play particularly well it's hard for us to overcome that."
Tonight's game provides a huge opportunity for the Pirates to revitalize their season early enough to overcome a poor start. Beating a quality, in-state opponent to break a losing streak ahead of their final four, winnable, non-conference games appears to be the perfect situation for the Pirates. Tipoff for this game will be at 8 p.m. inside Minges Coliseum.