Gameday Central: East Carolina vs. N.C. A&T
Dec. 14, 2013
The Pirates bring an 8-2 record into the intrastate matchup while the Aggies are 3-6 overall and looking for their first road win of the season. They have home wins over Greensboro College and Wright State with a neutral site triumph over Longwood, but haven't tasted victory on an opponent's floor since Feb. 2, 2013 against Maryland - Eastern Shore, a streak of 11 straight road losses.
N.C. A&T returns four players from its 2013 MEAC championship team which defeated Liberty in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament before being overwhelmed by eventual national champion Louisville in the second round.
Among those returnees is senior Lamont Middleton, who ranks second on the team in scoring with 17.0 points per game. Sophomore Bruce Beckford is another owner of a championship ring. This season he leads the Aggies with 7.5 rebounds per game despite missing two games due to a concussion.
Their leading scorer this year is senior FIU transfer Richaud Pack at 17.6 ppg. "They are a lot like Norfolk State," Lebo said. "They have terrific perimeter players and athletic inside guys with size. They really should've beaten Georgia Tech, so they're a team that's capable. Middleton and Pack are terrific perimeter players."
A&T has six players listed at 6-7 or taller, compared to the Pirates who will dress just three players listed at that height.
Essentially down to a seven-man rotation, Lebo will look to his guard filled roster to make jump shots. The Pirates finished just 2-of-16 outside the arc last time out against Mount Olive and were just 4-of-14 a week prior in the loss to UNC Wilmington.
"We looked at the history so far this year and when we don't have Akeem [Richmond] and Paris [Roberts-Campbell] shooting well on the same night we struggle."
The duo leads East Carolina in scoring with 18.0 and 14.5 ppg, respectively. Freshman Caleb White is the only other player to average double figures with 11.3 ppg.
Nearly half of the Pirates' games so far have been decided by two points or less with ECU coming away the victor in three of those games.
"We're learning how to win," Lebo said. "We've been down. We've been in close games so that's helped us in having other close games. We didn't want that last one to quite as close.
"I don't think we've played particularly well at home. We seemed to have played better on the road to date, so we'll have to play a little better in this next one." Overall the Pirates are 4-1 at home this season, but have shot just above 31 percent from behind the arc and under 70 percent at the free throw line the last three games inside its comfort zone; allowing their three opponents to cumulatively shoot a higher percentage from all three areas of the floor as well as out-rebound them.
ECU has combated its lack of size with its newly found offensive philosophy which has allowed them to get to the foul line nearly 300 times (292) already and make more free throws (208) than its opponents have attempted (190). The Pirates ranks among the NCAA top 15 in both free throws made and attempted this season.
Sophomore Michael Zangari and Brandan Stith continue to man the lane of the undersized Pirates. Stith is one of just three freshmen nationally to have collected 100 rebounds in his first 10 games this season.
ECU has won both previous games played in the all-time series.
Saturday's game is part of the Pirates' Holiday Hoops pack. Lower level tickets are available for just $5 and can be purchased in advance at the Online Ticket Center or at the gate. The Minges Coliseum Box Office opens at 3:30. The halftime show will also include amazing dog tricks.