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Post play in focus for Pirates

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Central Florida's Tacko Fall goes up for a shot while being guarded by East Carolina's Jabari Craig (25) during their game on Dec. 31, 2017. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Central Florida 7-foot-6 junior center Tacko Fall is a difficult matchup for any basketball team.

East Carolina was shorthanded in the post on Sunday in Minges Coliseum and Fall was charged with two fouls during the first four minutes of the game, but that didn’t stop the Knights from rolling to a 59-39 victory to drop ECU to 0-2 in the American Athletic Conference.

Fall sat on the bench for most of the first half and was far from spectacular for the game — totaling six points, five rebounds and three blocks in 18 minutes — but Pirate interim coach Michael Perry said the towering player still had a unique impact.

“It impacts you because mentally you are so prepared on how you can attack him and what not to do and not attacking the rim or getting into the lane,” said Perry, who added that Fall “brings an interesting dynamic to college basketball.

“He affects the game when he is in there, but when he’s out he can also affect the game because your mindset still has already been programmed like he is in there.”

After basically being a non-factor in the first half, Fall’s on-court presence was definitely felt after intermission and as his team took complete control. During one sequence he blocked an Isaac Fleming shot and that immediately led to a 3-pointer on the other end for UCF to lead 39-20.

The Knights finished 7-of-18 from 3-point range and ECU was only 2-of-14. UCF (10-4, 1-1) led by as many as 23 points.

In all, East Carolina (6-7) committed 21 turnovers, shot 31.9 percent and produced its lowest scoring output of the season ahead of two road games this week.

Perry said Aaron Jackson (shoulder) and 6-8 freshman Justin Whatley (wrist) both could be looking at extended absences because of injury, leaving the Pirates with only three true post players. That happened Sunday against a defensive-minded UCF squad that featured Fall and was an 11-point favorite.

Usman Haruna, who is 6-11, and guard B.J. Tyson each had seven rebounds. Haruna played a season-high 26 minutes and could continue to see a key role.

“One thing he can do for us is defense and rebounding on a nightly basis,” Perry said of Haruna, a first-year Pirate from Bismarck State College. “We just need to keep him out of foul trouble and keep a harness on his emotions. Once he does that he will see more minutes out on the floor, but we could certainly use the rebounding and also a defensive presence there at the rim.”

ECU went 4-1 to close nonconference play, but it has lost its two league games by a combined 46 points.

A more favorable matchup comes next for the Pirates. They play at South Florida (7-8) on Wednesday and are at Connecticut on Saturday.

“Trying to build momentum when you don't have offensive productivity is very difficult,” Perry said. “Now we are stepping into conference play and there is a higher level (of opponent) and certainly athleticism is at another level than what it was earlier.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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