East Carolina’s basketball team is 7-3, highlighted by a 5-0 start in which it averaged 76.2 points per game.
The Pirates, who have dealt with COVID-19 interruptions recently and players missing practices and games, have reached 70 points only once since then and are 1-3 in the American Athletic Conference. ECU has a scoring average of 60.5 in AAC play, tied with Temple and Tulane for last in the league coming out of the weekend’s games. The next chance for an offensive outbreak for ECU is Wednesday at Cincinnati.
“We just have to get back to a routine, because we’ve had a lot of COVID issues the last two weeks and had a lot going on and couldn’t even practice,” Pirate junior forward Jayden Gardner said after Saturday’s 69-63 loss to South Florida in Minges Coliseum in which ECU was outscored 44-37 after halftime. “It’s just a lot going on and we still have Tristen (Newton) out and Tristen will be back soon. ... We just have to get back on a rhythm of having practices and then games and then practices and games.”
Gardner is averaging 16.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, and he posted a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds versus USF despite not starting after missing some practice sessions. But he has scored 15 total points in the last two games (4-of-14 combined shooting from the field) in losses to Tulane and the Bulls. J.J. Miles and Bitumba Baruti were each 0-for-4 from 3-point range against USF, which made 6-of-10 3-pointers after halftime to spark its advantage.
Like Gardner, East Carolina coach Joe Dooley said the Pirates need to play games and continue to mesh when they have the ball. The team’s last win was Dec. 22 over Tulane (68-58), which was followed by a Dec. 30 matchup at Wichita State being postponed and then defeats on Jan. 2 and Jan. 9.
“We have to be better and it’s not ideal, but people are dealing with this every day and we’re not going to use those things as excuses,” Dooley said. “South Florida showed up and played.”
Starting shooting guard Newton was unavailable for the last two contests, and backup point guard Noah Farrakhan also was out injured for Saturday’s game. Newton was in the arena and near teammates during warmups Saturday and sat on the bench, but not in uniform, as he is working toward being fully cleared for return-to-game status.
Tremont Robinson-White stepped up with a career-high 29 points, using pick-and-roll action to attack the basket and get myriad layup opportunities. He shot 9-of-14 from the field with zero assists and three of the Pirates’ 11 turnovers. USF had 17 turnovers.
The Bulls (7-5, 3-3) shot their way to a 67-54 lead with 2:49 remaining. ECU rallied, cutting it to 67-63 during the final minute and then missed a 3 on each of its final three possessions.
Miles, who is the Pirates’ second-leading scorer for the season at 10.4 points per game, had eight points and Brandon Suggs seven.
“Tre was great and (being shorthanded) didn’t affect it. We have to play better,” Dooley said. “The point guard play wasn’t where we lost the game, but our shot selection at times was bad. ... Hopefully, we’ll get (Newton) back here soon and I think like every other team, when you start playing, you want to get into a flow and we haven’t gotten into a flow. You don’t play for a week and don’t play for a week, and the speed of the game is a lot different.
“A lot of times coaches want to practice more. I’m at the point now where I think we need to play more, so we can get some familiarity. The offensive flow has not been very good and the ball gets stuck and we’ve not gotten downhill like we need to. We’ve also missed some open shots.”