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Rested Pirates hit the road

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South Florida's Geno Thorpe, right, fouls Connecticut's Rodney Purvis during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

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By Tony Castleberry
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, February 11, 2017

East Carolina basketball player B.J. Tyson bounded onto the Minges Coliseum court Thursday afternoon ready for his first extended practice minutes since suffering a left knee injury during a Jan. 11 home game against Houston.

Tyson, a 6-foot-3 junior whose 11.9 points per game average still leads the team despite him missing the last six games, nearing a return to game action is one of several positive developments for the Pirates (11-13, 3-8 American Athletic Conference) as they end a weeklong stretch without a game at South Florida (6-17, 0-12) tonight at 8.

In addition to Tyson being cleared to practice, 6-7 senior forward Caleb White broke out of a shooting slump to score a game-high 20 points in last Saturday’s 74-65 home win over Tulane, and freshman Jeremy Sheppard, a 6-1 point guard, poured in a career-high 18 in his first start since Dec. 31.

Facing a USF club that has not won since Dec. 22 and has lost 12 straight could provide additional confidence for ECU, but the Pirates’ 0-8 record in true road games this season will probably keep them humble.

“They know it,” interim coach Michael Perry said of the team’s struggles away from Minges. “They’re determined to change the history (of the Pirates not winning road games). ... They’re determined to change that, and I’m on board with them.”

East Carolina kicked off league play with a 60-49 victory over USF in Greenville on Dec. 28, then lost eight of its next nine, including six in a row, before knocking off Tulane.

The Pirates also lost Tyson and head coach Jeff Lebo along the way as the team struggled to get its offensive performance to match its often stifling defense. With Lebo lending as much help as he can while he recovers from hip surgery, Perry has tried different lineup combinations and shortened and extended his rotation in hopes that players like White, who ranks second on ECU’s career 3-pointers list and sixth in all-time scoring, would regain their shooting touch.

White was able to do that against the Green Wave and Sheppard, the Pirates assists leader (3.3 per game), said White scoring at a high rate gives him more offensive options.

“It made my job easier,” Sheppard said. “With me hitting and (White) hitting, and (Kentrell Barkley) was hitting too, that left the lane open for me to penetrate.”

Barkley, a 6-5 sophomore forward who has been ECU’s best all-around player in American games, had 12 points, 12 rebounds and six assists versus Tulane and his 11.8 ppg average barely trails Tyson, who practiced for about 45 minutes on Thursday. In AAC play, Barkley leads the Pirates in scoring (12.7 ppg), rebounds (8.5 rpg) and steals (1.3 spg).  

White’s scoring average of 10.8 ppg is third on the team and Sheppard and fellow rookie Elijah Hughes, a 6-6 guard, clock in at 8.8 and 8.3 ppg, respectively. Andre Washington, a 7-1 graduate transfer center, leads the league in blocked shots with 70, which is fourth on ECU’s single-season record list and ninth on the career ledger. 

Geno Thorpe, a 6-4 junior guard, is South Florida’s leading scorer with a 13.8 points per game mark and 6-4 sophomore guard Troy Holston averages 10.9 ppg. Tulio Da Silva’s 6.8 rebounds per game average leads the Bulls, who are next to last in the American in scoring offense (65.5 ppg), scoring defense (75.0 ppg) and scoring margin (-9.6 ppg).

Even with a boost of confidence after last Saturday’s victory, Sheppard said the Pirates do not have the luxury of counting on any easy victories, especially away from home.

“We’re not sleeping on anybody,” he said.   

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

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ECU

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