GAME NOTES: Playing for crucial conference tournament seeding, the East Carolina Pirates pull into Dallas to take on the SMU Mustangs in a Conference USA matchup at Moody Coliseum.
ECU has alternated wins and losses over the last four games, most recently grabbing a road victory at Tulsa on Wednesday night. The Pirate are tied with Tulsa for fifth place in the conference, only a game out of third. The top five seeds in the C-USA Tournament receive a bye into the quarterfinals.
After falling to Tulane in New Orleans last Saturday, 78-67, the Mustangs have now dropped three of their last four and six of eight overall. After starting the season 5-0 at home for the first time since the 2006-07 season, SMU has gone just 1-5 at Moody Coliseum.
This is the ninth meeting between these two schools with SMU holding a 5-3 series advantage. The Pirates took last year's encounter in Greenville by a score of 62-43. The Mustangs won on Feb. 2, 2011, 46-41, at Moody Coliseum. Prior to last season's loss, SMU had won two consecutive games in the series. The Mustangs hold a 4-3 edge since the schools became members of C-USA.
Maurice Kemp finished with 23 points as the Pirates defeated the Tulsa Golden Hurricane, 72-63, in a Wednesday night road game. Akeem Richmond chipped in 17 points off the bench for ECU, while Ty Armstrong contributed 13 points, Paris Campbell tallied 10 points and nine boards, and Miguel Paul dealt 10 assists. ECU led by 14 points on two separate occasions in the first half, but the Golden Hurricane managed to narrow the deficit to go into intermission trailing, 34-29. Tulsa rallied and built a 56-51 lead by the 6:41 mark of the second half. The Pirates then went on a 10-0 run to take control for good. ECU shot only 36.7 percent from the floor in the second stanza, but it overcame the poor showing from the field by converting 13-of-16 attempts at the charity stripe.
The second-best scoring team in C-USA, East Carolina averages 76.9 points and pulls down 37.3 rebounds per game. The Pirates are not as able at the defensive end, allowing opponents an average of 71.0 ppg. They lead the league in three categories: assists per game (17.2), assist-to-turnover ratio (1.3) and 3-point field goals per game (7.5). Kemp paces C-USA in scoring, averaging 18.2 ppg, and adds 7.7 rpg for good measure. Paul ranks second in the conference with 6.7 apg, and tacks on 12.9 ppg. Robert Sampson scores 9.6 ppg and heads ECU with 9.1 rpg, and Armstrong kicks in with 9.4 ppg off the bench.
Despite every starter scoring in double figures, SMU fell to Tulane, 78-67, last Saturday. The Green Wave made 46.7 percent from 3-point range, helping overcome a 31-22 disadvantage in rebounds. SMU knocked down 56.3 percent from the field, although it was just 2-of-6 from 3-point range. Shawn Williams led the way with 16 points, Nick Russell added 13, Jalen Jones and Ryan Manuel 12, and Cannen Cunningham with 10. The Mustangs pulled within 65-62 on Jones' layup with 3:29 left, but Tulane's Ricky Tarrant responded with consecutive 3- pointers to seal the victory for the Green Wave.
SMU has had the same starting lineup for every game this season, with Jones leading the way for the Mustangs with 15.1 ppg and 8.1 rpg. He is joined in double-figures by fellow starters Russell (14.1 ppg) and Manuel (12.2). All three rank in the top-20 in the conference in scoring. SMU paces C-USA and ranks 17th in the nation in free throw percentage (.754). All of SMU's starters are shooting at least 67 percent from the line: Manuel - .806, Jones - .765, Williams - .741, Russell - .699, Cunningham - .672. As a team, the Ponies are averaging 64.3 ppg and giving up 62.0 ppg, while holding opponents to just 39.1 percent shooting from the field, which is tops in the league.
Although they play strong defense, the Mustangs just don't score enough to win consistently. Expect the offensive-minded Pirates to overwhelm SMU and continue their winning ways.
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