The East Carolina University men’s basketball wrapped up its season on Thursday in the American Athletic Conference Tournament with a 66-52 loss to the University of Central Florida.
The team faced a lot of adversity during the season, starting with the news of sophomore guard Jeremy Sheppard’s ineligibility then the resignation of eight-year head coach Jeff Lebo on Nov. 29. Once Lebo resigned, assistant coach Michael Perry took over as interim head coach. Shepard was dismissed from the team just before the start of the 2017-18 season by Lebo. Before Lebo resigned, the team started off 2-4 in non-conference play, starting the season extremely sluggish.
Joining Sheppard on the list of removed players were sophomore guard Raquan Wilkins who received his release from the program on Nov. 3, then star junior forward Kentrell Barkley who was suspended indefinitely on Feb. 23.
After Perry took over, the team showed promise, going on a three-game win streak and winning four of the last five non-conference games to enter AAC play 6-5. However, the Pirates stumbled into conference play, going 1-5 in the first six games. The team only won three more games finishing just 10-20 which includes the loss in the tournament.
“The team continued to get better through the season,” Perry said. “We are a much better basketball team now than we were when I came in. We were competitive in a lot of games this year. We had to go out on the court and win the basketball games we did because there probably was not one game where we were favored to win.”
Some members of the team reached milestones despite the underwhelming season. From not even being on the team last season to being named unanimous conference Rookie-of-the-Year, redshirt freshman guard Shawn Williams took the AAC by storm. Averaging just 8.4 points per game in non-conference play, Williams became a primary scoring option for the Pirates throughout conference play, averaging 14.6 points per game. He surpassed the 20-point mark four of 18 times in conference play, and surpassed the 30-point mark once against the University of Memphis on Feb. 3. He added four AAC Rookie-of-the-Weeks, then winning the yearly award for the first time in ECU’s history.
“I feel like I played well this year,” Williams said. “I could of played better at the beginning but I accomplished a lot of goals I had set coming in, and I got Rookie-of-the-Year at the end.”
Junior guard Isaac Fleming recorded the school’s first two triple-doubles during conference play. The first came on Feb. 3 against the University of Memphis when he registered 11 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists in an 88-85 overtime victory. The second was against the University of Connecticut back on Feb. 18, when he scored 13 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and dished out 10 assists in an 84-80 loss at home.
Before his suspension, Barkley almost registered the school’s first quadruple-double against the University of South Florida back on Jan. 17 when he had 18 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and seven steals, in the 90-52 blowout over the Bulls, and surpassed the 1,000-point milestone, as well as the 600-rebound milestone.
Another big headline regarding the men’s basketball team was senior guard B.J. Tyson graduating and playing in his last season. Tyson finished his career fifth on the school’s all-time scoring list, registering a career total of 1,570 points. With the 1570 points, Tyson finished first in the AAC’s all-time scoring list in the leagues short history. He faced adversity throughout his career with injuries, but managed to get out in front of the faithful fans of Minges Coliseum for his senior season.
“I want to thank the fans for standing behind us whenever we fought through adversity,” Tyson said. “We have been through a lot with injuries, players leaving the team, me being injured as well as coach Lebo stepping down. We have a lot of true fans out there and I want to thank them for being there.”
Even though ECU is not in the NCAA tournament, the program has managed to get four prospects to sign national letters of intent, committing to play at ECU next season. Come next year, fans and spectators will determine if the team put in the necessary effort in the offseason to improve themselves entering the 2018-19 season.