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ECU faces Fall, UCF

010317Tacko

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2016 file photo, Central Florida's Tacko Fall (24) dunks over the defense of Villanova's Darryl Reynolds (45) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Charleston Classic at TD Arena in Charleston, S.C. A year ago, the reflection Tacko Fall was seeing wasn't the image everyone else saw in UCF's raw but intriguing 7-foot-6 freshman center. on and there is a new coaching staff, a new energy around the Knights program and definitely a different Fall. The shy towering young man is getting more comfortable on the basketball court.

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By Tony Castleberry
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

East Carolina basketball coach Jeff Lebo has his own ideas about how good Central Florida’s Tacko Fall is, but when a recent postgame news conference shifted focus to ECU’s next game, Lebo let Fall’s coach do the talking through him.

“I talked to coach (Johnny) Dawkins at (American Athletic Conference) media day,” Lebo said after the Pirates (9-6) lost to SMU on Saturday to fall to 1-1 in league play heading into tonight’s 7:15 tip-off at UCF. “I played against him and have got a lot of respect for him. Johnny’s seen a lot of guys and he said (Fall) could really change the face, if he figured it out, of basketball. He’s starting to figure it out a little bit.”

Fall, a 7-foot-6 sophomore, has helped lead the Knights (11-3) to a 2-0 start in the American, including a 77-53 blowout victory over Temple on Saturday in which UCF held the Owls to a conference-record 11 points in the first half. Fall tied teammate Matt Williams with a game-high 17 points in the win, marking the eighth consecutive game that either Fall or Williams, a 6-5 senior guard, led the team in scoring.

Fall’s seasonal averages are eye-popping, particularly his NCAA-best 84.4 field goal shooting percentage. The Dakar, Senegal, native scores at a 15.4 points per game clip and leads the AAC with an 11.5 rebounding average. Fall is also responsible for 35 of the Knights’ 54 blocked shots.

With Fall dominating the paint, Central Florida leads the league in rebounding margin, grabbing an average of 13.6 more boards per game than its opponents. That has helped Dawkins’ team notch solid nonconference wins over Mississippi State (9-3), College of Charleston (10-4) and Massachusetts (10-4) in addition to American wins over Tulane and Temple by an average of 18.5 points per game.

“One of the most unique players in college basketball,” Lebo said of Fall. “He has changed the game, really. It’s a concern for us because you get nothing in the paint (against Fall and the Knights). Nothing. Nobody does.”

THINGS TO WATCH

SUBPAR SHOOTING: With Fall likely rendering the lane a no-fly zone tonight, East Carolina will need to find a way to make perimeter shots, something it has struggled to do recently. After shooting 36.2 percent from the field in Wednesday’s win over South Florida, the Pirates made only 35.3 percent Saturday versus SMU and hit a woeful 3-of-20 (15.0 percent) from 3-point range.

Those struggles have carried over to the free throw line as well. Although the Pirates have done a good job drawing fouls and getting to the stripe, they are 26-of-53 (49.0 percent) in AAC play.

“We’re not a confident offensive team,” Lebo said. “Those shooting numbers, from the foul line with nobody guarding you, 5-of-15 (against SMU)? ... When you don’t shoot well (from the field), you usually don’t shoot well from the foul line. They go hand-in-hand. (Free throw shooting is) not going to be a strength, I don’t think, for us, but we’re better than that.”  

LEADERS NEED TO LEAD: ECU’s top 3-point shooter, 6-7 senior Caleb White, is 0-of-8 from beyond the arc in league play and after scoring at least 20 points in three of the Pirates’ first five games, he has not had more than 12 in any of the last six. White is tied with 6-3 junior guard B.J. Tyson for the team lead in scoring at 12.3 points per game.

Kentrell Barkley, a 6-5 sophomore forward, is the only other ECU player averaging double-figure scoring at 10.6 ppg and his 6.5 rebounds per game average is second on the team behind Andre Washington’s 7.5 mark. Washington, a 7-1 graduate transfer center, is second in the American in blocked shots (2.7 per game) and will probably be tasked with the lion’s share of defensive responsibility against Fall.

KNIGHT MOVES: Williams has made a league-high 52 shots from 3-point range and averages 15.8 ppg, tops among UCF players who have seen action in 10 or more games. Standout guard B.J. Taylor, a 6-2 sophomore, averaged 16.0 ppg in the Knights’ first seven games before being sidelined with a thumb injury.  

Tank Efianayi, a 6-6 senior guard/forward, averages 12.1 ppg and is one of five UCF players who has at least 25 assists. 

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

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