ECU begins league slate at SMU
By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector
Wednesday, January 2, 2019
East Carolina’s first American Athletic Conference basketball matchup of the season will come in a game featuring two of the league’s top three scorers.
ECU freshman Jayden Gardner, a 6-foot-6, 245-pound forward from Wake Forest, is second in the AAC at 19.0 points per game. The Pirates (7-5) closed their nonconference schedule last Friday with a 77-57 home win versus North Carolina A&T and Gardner totaled 27 points and 13 rebounds, giving him five double-doubles already in this campaign.
Leading SMU (8-4), which hosts the Pirates tonight at 8 (EST) in Moody Coliseum and the game is available to stream on ESPN3, is senior guard Jahmal McMurray and his 18.7 scoring average that ranks third in the AAC. Wichita State big man Markis McDuffie is first in the league at 19.5 ppg.
Beginning conference play also serves as ECU’s start to returning to a more regulated schedule and break between games. The Pirates played only three times in December, going 2-1 in beating Maryland-Eastern Shore on Dec. 2, losing at Charlotte on Dec. 18 and then handling N.C. A&T soundly on Dec. 28.
“I think we put some new stuff in (during December), but I think we actually got better at some of the stuff that we already had in,” Pirate first-year coach Joe Dooley said of the Pirate offense. “With this team being young, we are going to need to keep things pretty simple. To give this team confidence, we just need to maybe do it more and continue to get better at some simple things.”
ECU’s lone home game during its opening four-game AAC slate is Saturday afternoon versus Cincinnati.
Shawn Williams is averaging 14.3 points per game and has made 21 of his 56 3-point attempts.
The Pirates are 4-14 all-time against the Mustangs, the last victory coming in 2012 in Dallas. SMU has won nine straight in the series since then.
This SMU team is 6-1 in its last seven outings. That stretch included beating Wright State by one point, winning at Georgetown and most recently recording an 81-53 rout of Cornell on Dec. 22.
SMU played four games in December, going 3-1 with a loss to TCU.
McMurray scored 14 points versus Cornell and it was fellow guard Jimmy Whitt Jr. who led the way with 22 points. He was 10-for-15 on field goals and added six rebounds, four assists and three steals.
ECU and SMU played twice last season and the Mustangs won both matchups by an average margin of 22 points.
Contact Ronnie Woodward at email@example.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.