The combination of the Caleb White show along with Jeremy Sheppard’s continued early success delivered the East Carolina men’s basketball team a 69-56 victory over North Carolina Central University in Minges Coliseum.
White led all scorers with 20 points including four 3-pointers, while Sheppard had an impressive night across the stat sheet with 13 points, eight assists to only two turnovers and five rebounds.
“Sheppard was terrific in this game,” ECU head coach Jeff Lebo said. “He was outstanding taking care of the ball and making the right plays, he gives us another ball handler who has speed with the ball, and shot it very well from three.”
Sheppard shows more growth in every game he has played in so far this season after sitting out the first three due to suspension. During each game he has either maintained or set a new career-high for points scored. Out of the six games he has played, five of them have shown increased production. The offense also appears to flow better with Sheppard in the game as he is a true point guard who excels at playmaking for others around him.
“Y’all haven’t even seen the best of him yet,” White said. “He balances other people out well. You have Kentrell and BJ who get to the free throw line and make things happen in the paint. They are very good at collapsing people but with me and Shep you have to play us honest, you have to choose to either help and pack it in or stay close to the shooters to be able to close out.”
White had his fourth 20-point game of the season already and continues to shoot well from beyond the three-point line every night, which was needed since B.J. Tyson reported not feeling well about five hours before the game. His illness hurt him as he experienced his worst game of the season for the Pirates, scoring only eight points and recording four turnovers in just 24 minutes of play.
On the other end of the floor ECU did what it has so far hung its hat on every game, defending well and winning the rebounding battle. The Pirates held NCCU to under 40 percent shooting from the field and under 30 percent from behind the arc. They outrebounded the Eagles 43-29 and recorded 16 offensive rebounds.
“At no point in the game did I think they were in control,” White said. “We had them on their heels the whole time and we defended really well.”
The bench was again solid for the Pirates, led by Sheppard’s play that sparked the energy in his other teammates. With the team starting to get much healthier Lebo has a consistent bench mob to turn to without losing effectiveness on the floor, particularly on the defensive end with redshirt freshman Deng Riak. The stat sheet rarely makes him look influential, but his court-IQ and his defensive positioning ability changes the pace and dominance of the game, according to Lebo.
The Pirates’ next game is their toughest test of the season when they travel to the University of Virginia to play the No. 6 Cavaliers team on Tuesday.
“It’s gonna be hard, we haven’t been in a real tough environment yet,” Lebo said. “They’re one of the best defensive teams in the country. We’re gonna get a mad Virginia team and that’s not good, can’t have 16 turnovers against them and expect to win.”