Pirates pull away in second half for 86-67 win over Morgan State in opener
East Carolina's Darrell Jenkins finishes with 22 points and 12 assists in his Pirate debut
CUSA-fans.com has a new staff of team correspondents this fall to help bring you, the fan, more detailed Conference USA sports coverage. Today, our ECU Correspondent Thomas "Bubba" Rosenbaum brings you a recap of the basketball game between East Carolina and Morgan State.
With the exception of Ricky Stokes and his staff, there probably weren’t too many people who knew what to expect from the East Carolina men’s basketball team prior to last night’s season opener against Morgan State. After all, the Pirates were playing their first game with a roster that features nine first-year players.
The result? ECU won its seventh straight season-opener by defeating the Morgan State Bears of the MEAC, 86-67, on Saturday night in Greenville. Former Cal coach Todd Bozeman coaches the Bears, who finished with a record of 4-26 a season ago. Bozeman, who was dismissed from Cal in 1996 amid various recruiting violations, was coaching his first collegiate game in over ten years after being placed under a “show-cause” ban by the NCAA.
East Carolina jumped out to an early 16-6 lead on the strength of four three-pointers. This included three by Darrell Jenkins and one by the team’s lone senior, Courtney Captain. From that point, the combination of Morgan State’s hot shooting and some sloppy play by the Pirates resulted in the Bears going on a 28-11 run over the next ten minutes.
ECU would regain the lead at the break, following a 17-8 spurt that was sparked by the play of Taylor Gagnon and Jeremy Ingram. Ingram drained a three-pointer to give the Pirates’ the lead as the teams headed into the locker room.
After struggling in the first half, Coach Stokes and his staff made some halftime adjustments on defense. They received the result they had hoped for, holding Morgan State to an 8 of 21 shooting performance and only 25 points after the break.
Although the Pirates outscored the Bears, 42-25, in the second half, the Bears did not go down without a fight. Bozeman’s club showed some grit and took a one-point lead at 54-53 with about 14 minutes remaining.
However, over the next ten minutes, Ricky Stokes had to like what he saw from his young club. ECU outscored Morgan State 24-8, building a comfortable 15-point cushion at 77-62 with 4:48 to play. This spurt featured solid play inside and out, as the Pirates knocked down clutch perimeter shots while Jeremy Ingram and John Fields brought the crowd to its feet with a couple of impressive dunks.
While the Pirates’ 19-point win over a team that struggled mightily a year ago must be kept in perspective, they did show several reasons for their fans to be optimistic about the prospects of this season, as well as the future of the program. The athleticism and overall talent level in the program has definitely been upgraded.
Last season, ECU did very little well. They shot the ball poorly from the floor and the free throw line. Offensively, there was a lack of movement (player and ball), poor passing, and too much dribbling. This resulted in poor shots with the shot clock running down and consequently a low shooting percentage. The Pirates also had season-long issues with in bounding the basketball.
Well, while one game is hardly a season’s make, the Pirates looked to be improved in all of these facets of the game. No, the play wasn’t perfect—far from it, but you could tell there was a flow and chemistry that just wasn’t present last year.
This is partially due to the presence of junior-college transfer point guard Darrell “Smooch” Jenkins. The lefthander possesses very good quickness and ball-handling ability. He can beat you off the dribble, but can also pull up and drain the three. There were a couple ill-advised shots taken, but he finished 4 of 8 from behind the arc. The JUCO-product from Marietta, who played for the College of Southern Idaho a season ago, distributed the ball nicely with 12 assists. Jenkins was a perfect 8 of 8 on the night from the free throw line. Last season, ECU could not have the ball in their point guard’s hands in crunch time due to his inability to knock down free throws.
Expect the Pirates to shoot the ball better from the perimeter this season. They were 9 of 21 on the night, with juniors Cory Farmer and Jeremy Ingram knocking down two trifectas apiece.
Overall, East Carolina shot 51.6% percent from the floor, making 32 of their 62 shots.
Jeremy Ingram, who underwent his fourth knee surgery since last season, showed no ill effects. He only played 16 minutes, but provided a spark with 13 points and four rebounds off the bench.
Cory Farmer netted 11 points, including two three-pointers in his first game as a Pirate.
The frontcourt should be slightly deeper than last year despite not having a veteran like Corey Rouse. Freshmen Gabe Blair and John Fields are going to have to carry the load. Blair scored 13 points and grabbed eight boards while Fields finished with 12 points and four rebounds.
Fields’ length and jumping ability resulted in three blocked shots. Blair showed nice touch and possesses a body that should hold up fine inside when facing quality opponents.
Taylor Gagnon was his usual gritty, blue-collar self. The hometown product logged 16 minutes and recorded five points and four rebounds.
Freshman center Justin Ramsey played only seven minutes, but he allowed the Pirates to rest Blair and Fields.
All in all, it was a successful first outing for East Carolina. They showed more good things than not. However, if they are going to be able to compete against and beat stiffer competition, there are a few things they must do better. The Pirates must take better care of the basketball, as they had 18 turnovers against MSU. Also, ECU must rebound the basketball better and continue to develop its inside game. With Fields and Blair providing most of the inside force, the Pirates must continue to shoot well from the outside. If that duo were to get in foul trouble, things get dicey when you’re forced to play Ramsey more minutes. Ramsey can contribute a few minutes to spell them, but at this point it appears he cannot be relied on for significant contributions.East Carolina will travel to Richmond on Tuesday, November 14 for a game against the University of Richmond Spiders of the Atlantic 10. Tipoff is at 7pm.