Former men’s basketball head coach Joe Dooley’s coaching struggles on the defensive end and inability to close out games led to the demise of his second four-year stretch at East Carolina University.
The Pirates began their season in an unprecedented manner, defending home court through the first 10 games. However, all was not as it seemed. Wins against South Carolina State University on Nov. 9, Canisius University on Nov. 12, and Western Carolina University on Nov. 14 cushioned ECU to an early 3-0 start to the season. None of the three teams ended the season with a winning record.
Beginning with the first game of the season against SC State, one thing was clear; closing out was a problem for the Pirates. Basketball is a game of runs, but allowing SC State to come back from a 13-point deficit to bring the game to within 2 points in four minutes of play is not winning basketball.
In the first loss of the season against the University of Oklahoma on Nov. 18, the Sooners led by four with two minutes to go in regulation. Not only did they create the lead, but they also kept it until time expired. As the clock wound down, ECU missed three 3-pointers as well as converting two. However, in the end it was not enough as Oklahoma came out on top in the 79-74 loss.
The difference between good franchises and great franchises is the ability to close out in close games. In the rest of the out-of-conference schedule, the Pirates presented a 6-2 record but poised a total point differential of 19 between all eight games. Of the eight teams, over half ended the season with losing records, which highlights the tight margins of wins. As for the two losses, both teams that ECU faced ended with winning records.
Gonzaga University completed the highest average point differential in the National Collegiate Athletic Association this season at +20 points per game. To put that into context, the Pirates placed 254th among all Division I schools with a –2 point differential.
ECU ranked 223rd in defensive effort, allowing 70.9 points per game in the 30-game season. For comparison, American Athletic Conference rival University of Houston ranked third in the NCAA in scoring defense, allowing just 58.8 points per game in its 38-game season.
That was apparent when the Pirates faced the then-ranked No. 10 Houston this season on Jan. 22. The Pirates were outmatched defensively out of the gate as Houston smothered the purple and gold while scoring at will for a final score of 79-36. The 43-point differential was the widest margin in the season for the Pirates, win or loss. In the next four games, ECU created four losses by a total point differential of 45.
Following the stretch of losses, ECU was able to put together a win against the University of Tulsa while the team sat at the bottom of the conference. Tulsa ranked 246th in scoring in the NCAA, averaging 67.4 points per game across 31 games. The loss highlighted the Pirates’ inability to defend down the stretch with a final score of 73-71.
The Golden Hurricanes controlled the pace through the final two minutes of play until senior forward Vance Jackson hit a game winning 3-pointer with 11 seconds left to play. The end of the season’s close wins and more distal losses culminated in the inevitable end of Dooley’s second term with the Pirates.
Following Dooley’s termination from the program, former Tennessee University assistant head coach Michael Schwartz was hired to fulfill the defensive deficit as the new head coach for the Pirates. Schwartz made clear his intentions to bring defensive effort and presence to the program, leaving a bright future ahead for ECU.