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Pirates riding momentum swing

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ECU's Kentrell Barkley (15) goes up for a layup against Campbell Monday night at Minges Coliseum.

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Given the state of things two weeks ago, the East Carolina basketball team will spend the next two weeks pleasantly surprised.

The early leg of the season saw disaster befall the now 5-4 Pirates, who have suddenly surged above .500 for the first time since a Jan. 7 loss to Temple last winter in Philadelphia. They lost unprecedented games to Radford, Central Connecticut State and North Carolina A&T to open the season, prompting head coach Jeff Lebo to step away early in his eighth season in Greenville.

As has been known to happen in sports, the Pirates went from winning a game for Lebo and interim coach Michael Perry to winning another one and then another one to put themselves back on track heading into the exam and holiday break that sees ECU idle until hosting Charlotte on Dec.18.

“I can exhale a little bit now,” Perry said of the team’s recent three games in five days that produced the reversal of fortunes that included consecutive wins over UNC Wilmington in overtime, Delaware State and a long-distance comeback against Campbell. “But I want to stay on top of them. We’ve got to stay on top of the guys academically ... but we’ve also got to get our basketball in and practice.”

Although in different ways, each of the Pirates’ three wins in the run have been cliffhangers, including their steady climb back from 17 points down against the Camels on Monday with 15 minutes to play in the second half.

Perry thinks the break comes at the perfect time.

“Having two weeks off, it couldn’t have been scripted any better, having this time and reflecting,” he said. “There are a lot of things we’ve got to firm up, a lot of things we’ve got to add offensively and defensively. We’ve got to work on our zone defense, got to do some more extended pressure down the floor. I want to add some more offensive sets to our package as well. This is the time you want to do that.

“It’s easier to teach during this break when you’ve got three wins under your belt, and the kids are a lot more receptive.”

Although things will start to look much different on Dec. 28 when ECU opens American Athletic Conference play at home against Tulsa, such spirited, manufactured victories certainly help to reshape what is largely a new team outside of kingpins B.J. Tyson and Kentrell Barkley.

Against the odds and seemingly at odds with one another at halftime against the Camels on Monday night in Minges Coliseum, the Pirates came out of the intermission with defensive determination.

“You could see as the half went on our defense continuing to get better,” Perry said of his team, which after taking the lead late against Campbell to complete the comeback then forced two straight critical turnovers by the Camels with the game on the line. “The guys were more comfortable guarding the offense (a Princeton-style attack).”

New coach, same LeDay

One of the things handed off to Perry when Lebo announced his resignation was the agonizing wait over Virginia Tech transfer Seth LeDay.

The player who is with the Pirates and has proven to be arguably their best interior talent is still awaiting a ruling on an appeal to the NCAA, which initially rejected granting LeDay a waiver that would allow him to suit up for the Pirates.

Primary post players in senior Jabari Craig and freshman Dimitri Spasojevic have shown flashes of greatness, but lack the explosiveness and the scoring consistency that LeDay could provide.

“Yes, absolutely. That’s our prayer and we’ll see if it gets answered,” Perry said of whether or not the team is still hopeful the two-time transfer player will ultimately still finish his career as a Pirate.

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com, 252-329-9595 and follow @NateSumm99 on Twitter.

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