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High-flying 'Hawks host Pirates

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ECU's Jeremy Sheppard tries to get past Charleston's Marquise Pointer on Dec. 15, 2016. (Joe Pellegrino/The Daily Reflector)

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By Tony Castleberry
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

East Carolina’s basketball team enters tonight’s game at UNC Wilmington hoping to find its shooting stroke after setting a record for scoring futility against College of Charleston on Thursday.

UNC Wilmington, which hosts the Pirates in a 6:30 p.m. tip-off at Trask Coliseum, has a player who has not missed a shot in two games.

Offensive efficiency for ECU (7-4) and UNCW’s Devontae Cacok stands in stark contrast as the programs prepare for their 63rd meeting. Cacok has made a school-record 15 consecutive field goals after going 7-of-7 in Saturday’s 100-64 victory over Radford that brought UNCW’s record to 10-1. The Seahawks shot 67.2 percent from the field, which is the second-best mark in school history and it was also the sixth time this season coach Kevin Keatts’ team eclipsed 50.0 percent shooting.

On the other hand, East Carolina set a school record for the fewest points scored in a game in the shot clock era in a 53-35 home loss to COC. The defeat was ECU’s first in Minges Coliseum this season and its second straight lopsided setback after dropping a 76-53 decision at Virginia on Dec. 6. 

Recent results have revealed a conundrum for Pirate coach Jeff Lebo’s club.

“When we (go) small, it’s our best offensive team,” Lebo said, “but it’s our worst defensive team. That’s the problem that we have right now.”

Claiming road victories has been another problem for ECU, which has only one win away from Minges, and that came on a neutral floor against Air Force in the Savannah (Ga.) Invitational on Nov. 26.

The small-ball approach could help get the Pirates out of their offensive doldrums and 6-foot-1 Jeremy Sheppard might be the man to lead the charge. Sheppard, a freshman reserve point guard from Richmond, Va., was ECU’s high scorer at UVa. and against Charleston, but it has not been enough to offset lackluster scoring nights from starters and leading scorers Caleb White, B.J. Tyson and Kentrell Barkley.

White, a 6-7 senior who averages a team-high 13.6 points per game, scored 10 points against COC and Tyson had 10 at Virginia, but Barkley’s last game in double digits was Nov. 29 against Hampton and he and Tyson went a combined 0-of-12 from the field on Thursday.

It was only the second scoreless game of Tyson’s career. The 6-3 junior guard, who was 0-of-8 shooting versus Charleston to bring his scoring average down to 12.4, did not score in seven minutes of action at Memphis during his freshman season.

THINGS TO WATCH

DEFENSE DOES FINE: Lebo had no problems with his team’s defense against COC, noting that holding a team to 53 points on 33.3 percent shooting is usually good enough to win. Senior Andre Washington, a 7-1 graduate transfer center, echoed that sentiment after recording five blocked shots against the Cougars.

The woeful offensive numbers were hard to ignore though, even if that is exactly what the Pirates have to do.

“You’re never as good as they tell you or as bad as they tell you,” Lebo said. “You hold a team to 20 buckets, you think you have a chance. There (are) winning (defensive) numbers there.” 

Holding the Seahawks to similar output will be a tough task for ECU. Wilmington gets consistent high-percentage shots by having the Colonial Athletic Association preseason player of the year, Chris Flemmings, in uniform and a balanced attack that features four players who each average at least 11.7 points per game.

Flemmings, a 6-5 senior guard, leads the way with an 18.1 ppg mark, 6-5 sophomore guard C.J. Bryce averages 17.5 ppg and Cacok, a 6-7 sophomore forward, is the team leader in rebounds (9.9 per game) and contributes 14.0 points per outing. Denzel Ingram, a 6-foot senior and Charlotte transfer, scores at an 11.7 ppg clip and leads UNCW in assists (5.9 per game).

SERIES SETTING: East Carolina won 14 of the first 18 games between the schools, but Wilmington owns the longest winning streak in the series that began in 1963, notching 10 consecutive victories over the Pirates during a three-year span when the teams were part of the CAA. After ECU won at Trask in 2008, the teams did not meet again until 2013 when the Seahawks edged the Pirates 70-68 in Minges. ECU beat UNCW 78-73 last December in Greenville, but UNCW holds a 35-28 all-time edge.

Contact Tony Castleberry at tcastleberry@reflector.com, 252-329-9591 and follow @tcastleberrygdr on Twitter.

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Humans of Greenville

@HumansofGville

Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.

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