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ECU set for tourney; Williams wins award

East Carolina Houston Basketball-3
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East Carolina guard Shawn Williams, left, drives to the basket as Houston forward Nura Zanna defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Interim East Carolina basketball coach Michael Perry admitted Monday that his team has been a squad in transition since he took over for former veteran coach Jeff Lebo in late November.

The Pirates (10-19) have transitioned into postseason mode, and they are viewed as a major underdog for the American Athletic Conference tournament. 

Cincinnati, Wichita State and Houston finished top three in the league and separated themselves, while teams like ECU and others are looking for an upset run this week in Orlando, Fla. The 11th-seeded Pirates play No. 6 Central Florida (18-12) in the opening round on Thursday night in a game that probably won’t tip off until after 9 p.m.

“We’re all on an even playing field at this point, but with some teams there is a lot more pressure on them than others,” Perry said Monday during the league’s coaches teleconference. “We’ve put pressure on ourselves, because we want to be able to walk out of here at the end of the day with a good taste in our mouths. We want to go out and play our best basketball of the year.”

ECU did get a boost Wednesday when Shawn Williams was named the AAC rookie of the year.

The 6-foot Little Rock, Ark., native has been a major bright spot for ECU as a redshirt freshman and the team’s third-leading scorer at 12.2 points per game. Senior guard B.J. Tyson remains as the team leader with a 15.0 scoring mark to end the regular season.

Williams finished first among AAC freshmen in scoring, 3-point percentage (.366) and 3-pointers made per game (2.4), and he is the league leader in free throw percentage (87.0 percent) with a 60-of-69 mark.

“We have some really good pieces, and I think it just shows a bright future for East Carolina basketball and for Shawn Williams,” Perry said.

Williams is the first Pirate to win a rookie of the year award since Gabriel Mikulas won it in the Colonial Athletic Association for the  2000-01 season.

ECU and UCF have both been shorthanded lately. For the Pirates, the main concern is being without veteran forward Kentrell Barkley because of an indefinite suspension, and 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall is a big injury for UCF.

The absence of Fall provides the main difference between now and when the Knights overwhelmed ECU, 59-39, in Greenville on Dec. 31. Fall had six points, five rebounds and three blocks, and 6-9 A.J. Davis posted a big game with 17 points and 10 boards.

“We’ll review the game ... but I don’t think it has much merit because both teams are so uniquely different from then to now,” said UCF coach Johnny Dawkins, who is in his second season leading the Knights. “I think it’s more important to find out how both teams are looking now.”

UCF stopped a three-game losing streak Sunday with a 60-51 win against Tulane. Junior guard B.J. Taylor is the team’s scoring leader at 15.5 ppg.

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

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