ECU Goes TO SMU After Third Straight Road Win
Feb. 1, 2011
East Carolina enters the final week of the first half of the Conference USA season as something it has never been this late [in the conference season], relevant.
The Pirates (12-9, 4-3 C-USA) will look to become even more relevant Wednesday night as they face SMU (13-8, 4-3) at Moody Coliseum in Dallas. The two teams enter the contest with identical conference records tied for fifth-place, just a game out of first-place.
"Anytime you go on the road it's going to be difficult," Pirate coach Jeff Lebo said. "We've got a unique situation where we can get our third one in a row on the road and that's going to be big for our group."
The Pirates are off to a 4-3 start in league play and have a winning record through seven games for the first time in its membership. ECU roared back from a 13-point second half deficit to defeat Houston Saturday night, 74-70. It was the second time they had rallied from 13 down in the second half in the last three games.
A week earlier, ECU overcame a 10-point deficit with 5:30 to play to stun Marshall in Huntington and post a one-point victory, 82-81, for their second consecutive league road win. A 74-62 win at UCF preceded the triumph in West Virginia.
The Pirates are 2-1 on the road in league play this season with their only setback a three-point loss to Memphis, one of three road losses this season by three points or less. Since that loss to the Tigers, East Carolina has won four of its last six games and three of the last four.
A portion of ECU's recent success can be attributed to the improved play of forward Darrius Morrow. Morrow has scored double figures in five straight games and is averaging 15.0 ppg against Conference USA foes. Since league play began, Morrow has shot 60.0 percent from the floor, tops in the conference.
Last season he led the conference in field goal percentage.
"We were finally able to get the ball inside to [him] in the right areas for him to score," Lebo said following the win over Houston.
Morrow scored 18 points in each of the last two games after dropping in a career-high 33 points against Marshall. Even though he missed 10 free throws in the game, he made them when it counted most and has continued to make them since.
Morrow is 18-for-23 at the charity in the last two games, converting 10-of-13 against Southern Miss and 8-of-10 versus Houston.
SMU enters the pivotal matchup on a three-game winning streak with victories over Southern Miss, Tulsa and Rice. The Mustangs lead Conference USA in field goal, 3-point and free throw shooting percentage.
They are 10-4 at home this season which includes wins over Memphis and Southern Miss.
Six-foot-9 senior forward Papa Dia leads SMU in scoring (18.0 ppg) and rebounding (8.6 rpg), ranking fifth in the league in both categories. Junior Robert Nyakundi is second with 16.4 ppg, while leading C-USA in 3-point field goals per game (3.1) and 3-point shooting (.471).
SMU (8.8) and East Carolina (7.6) rank one and two in the conference in 3-pointers per game.
The match-up will mark the first head-to-head meeting as coches between a pair of former North Carolina guards. Lebo, in his first year at ECU, graduated from UNC in 1989 after leading the Tar Heels to the 1989 ACC Championship. SMU coach Matt Doherty graduated five years earlier and was a starter on the 1982 NCAA Championship team.
SMU leads the overall series 4-2, but the two have split each of the last two games with the road team winning each time.