EAST CAROLINA HOOPS PREVIEW:
Division II North Carolina Central will provide strong test for ECU
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 previews the basketball games between East Carolina and NCCU.
East Carolina will welcome in state Division II foe North Carolina Central into Williams-Arena-Minges Coliseum on Sunday for a 3:30 p.m. tip-off.
The Pirates are likely to get more than they had hoped for when they scheduled the Eagles. North Carolina Central is currently in the process of making the transition to Division I.
ECU faced NCCU in an exhibition game last season and defeated the Eagles, 67-60. Only three current Pirates—Courtney Captain, Sam Hinnant and Taylor Gagnon—played in that game. Captain scored 13 points in that game, while Hinnant finished with seven.
Henry Dickerson, who was formerly the head coach at Chattanooga, has his squad off to a 2-0 start. NC Central won its last game in dramatic fashion, defeating the second-ranked (in Division II) Barton Bulldogs, 67-65, on a last second three-pointer. The Eagles also won their other game in the BC Powder Classic in Durham, N.C., as they defeated Columbus State, 95-82.
Prior to opening their season, NCCU played two exhibition games against ACC competition.
They first traveled to Cameron Indoor Stadium and lost to Duke, 92-63. The Eagles held their own on the boards with the Blue Devils, as they were outrebounded, 38-33. They shot the ball slightly better than Duke, finishing the game at 47 percent as opposed to 45 percent for the Blue Devils.
However, their next game, a trip to Wake Forest, was much closer. The Eagles lost 68-60, but were within three with just over a minute to play. They limited the Deacs to just 41 percent from the floor. WFU had 19 turnovers in the game.
East Carolina head coach Ricky Stokes is firmly aware of the challenge that NCCU will pose to his young club, stating that the Eagles are very big and athletic.
The Eagles’ leader appears to be Drew Johnson. The 6-6, 205-pound senior forward scored 24 points against the Pirates in last year’s exhibition game. Against Duke, he posted 21 points and five rebounds. He bettered that performance against Wake Forest, as he finished with 29 points on an 11-of-18 shooting performance. Johnson scored ten points in the Eagles’ upset win over Barton.
NCCU also has a talented, experienced point guard in 6-3, 196-pound senior Bryan Ayala. Ayala scored a career-high 33 points in the Eagles’ season-opening win over Columbus State. He also had nine assists and six rebounds. Against Barton, Ayala knocked down a 23-foot game winning three-pointer as time expired and finished with 16 points.
Another effective player in senior Chris Mayshack joins him in the backcourt. Mayshack scored 13 on the Pirates in last year’s exhibition game. He finished with 17 points in the Eagles’ opener against Columbus State, drilling 5-of-7 from behind the arc.
The Eagles have some bulk in the middle with 6-9, 270-pound center Jason Hervey. Hervey has finished in double figures in each of NCCU’s wins, scoring 11 points against Columbus State and 12 points versus Barton. Against Barton, he also pulled down seven rebounds and blocked two shots.
In addition to Hervey, the Eagles also have significant contributors in forwards Geoffrey Hansley (6-6, 200) and Warren Roberson (6-7, 215). Hansley grabbed eight boards against Duke and scored ten points against Columbus State. Roberson also had eight rebounds against the Blue Devils.
NCCU appears to be an athletic, physical team that shoots the basketball relatively well and also rebounds the ball efficiently. They shot 41 free throws in their win over Columbus State, which included 18 attempts by sophomore point guard Bryan Ayala. Ayala shot 14-of-18 from the stripe while his team shot a strong 78 percent (32-of-41).
Their overall athleticism, as well as their bulk on the interior, is reason for concern.
TO WIN, ECU MUST:
- Clip the Eagles’ wings early - North Carolina Central is not going to be intimidated. They played the Pirates last year, but have also traveled to Duke and Wake Forest for exhibition games this season. The Eagles know they can play with East Carolina, and the longer they hang around the more dangerous they’re going to become. It is critical for ECU to take it to them early and often.
- Hold its own inside - Freshmen John Fields and Gabe Blair have played well in their first four games as Pirates. They must continue to play well in this one, as the Eagles pack some punch on the interior with Drew Johnson and company.
- Seize the stripe - East Carolina has done a good job getting to the free throw line through the first four games, but it has been unable to capitalize on those opportunities. The Pirates are shooting 60.6 percent (63-of-104). It already haunted ECU in its 71-67 overtime loss at Richmond. NC Central has made a living from the charity stripe in its first two games. The Eagles have already shot 69 free throws and are shooting 76.8 percent thus far.
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