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ECU hopes to avoid a Gray day

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ECU's B.J. Tyson shoots and scores during their game against SMU Saturday, Dec. 31st, 2016.

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By Tony Castleberry
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Not beating themselves might be East Carolina’s best bet for beating another American Athletic Conference opponent and snapping a three-game league losing skid.

ECU’s basketball team, which hosts AAC frontrunners Houston and Cincinnati this week, showed signs of a possible turnaround — 42.4 percent shooting from the field and only nine turnovers — at Temple on Saturday before the Owls closed their 81-62 victory with a 17-8 run. With Houston (12-4, 3-1 AAC) up next tonight at 6 in Minges Coliseum, Pirate guard B.J. Tyson said part of the team’s game plan needs to be focused inward instead of on what the Cougars will do.

“Right now, it’s really how we produce and how we approach the game because that’s what our problem has been,” said Tyson, a 6-foot-3 junior who leads ECU in scoring (12.1 points per game), assists (53) and steals (1.3  per game). “We’ve been too focused on what (opponents are) doing and then we don’t focus too much on what we’re doing. I feel like we need to focus more on finding ourselves and finding what we need to do.”

Making more shots consistently is what the Pirates (9-8, 1-3) needed most after scoring in the 40s in losses to SMU and Central Florida. The Temple game was the first American contest in which ECU hit more than 36.2 percent of its field goals, but 3-point shooting problems continued to plague the Pirates, who went 3-of-14 from beyond the arc against the Owls and are 18-of-76 (23.7 percent) in ACC play.

East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo has been understandably concerned about his club’s confidence in conference play, but bringing that up to the players is a bridge Lebo hopes he will not have to cross.

“I’ve always believed that confidence, you’ve got to get it in games,” Lebo said. “We believe in all of our guys...and they’ve got to prove they can make (shots) in practice, but they have to make them in games. If they don’t, there’s always a question in the back of their head, ‘Can they make them in the game?’

“That’s something that we’ve tried to work through. When you have to start to talk about it, and you have to address it, it usually becomes a real problem. That’s the way it’s been since I’ve been in this game.”

THINGS TO WATCH

HOUSTON, HELLO: The Cougars have one of the best 1-2 punches in the AAC with 6-2 junior guard Rob Gray and 6-5 senior guard Damyean Dotson. Gray, a Forest City native, leads the league in scoring with a 20.5 ppg average, and Dotson, an Oregon transfer, scores an average of 15.1 points per game and leads UH in rebounds (7.3 per game).

Houston also has the American’s best free throw shooter, 6-2 junior Wes VanBeck who is hitting 85.4 percent at the stripe, and the second-leading assists man, 6-1 sophomore Galen Robinson Jr. who averages 5.1 helpers per contest.

Trying to keep Gray and Dotson in check will probably be ECU’s toughest task tonight.

“Dotson is a fifth-year guy from Oregon, an all-conference type of player,” Lebo said, “and Gray, no one has figured out how to stop him. He only stops himself, I think.”

PIRATE POINTS: Lebo is hoping his big three of Tyson, 6-7 senior Caleb White and 6-5 sophomore Kentrell Barkley will come up bigger the rest of the season, particularly White, who is 1-of-15 from 3 in league games and averaging only 5.5 ppg in the AAC. White’s 11.3 ppg mark is second among the Pirates and Barkley, who leads ECU in conference scoring at 10.5 ppg, is averaging 10.8 for the season.

Center Andre Washington, a 7-1 graduate transfer, is second in the American in blocked shots (2.8 per game) and leads the Pirates in rebounds (7.2 per game). Freshman Jeremy Sheppard, a 6-1 point guard, has ECU’s best assists per game average (3.3) and his 7.7 points per game mark is just behind 6-6 classmate Elijah Hughes’ 7.8. 

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

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