With the calendar flipping into March, the conference races have subsequently intensified and every contest the East Carolina men’s basketball team plays from here on in will be magnified.
Wednesday night’s game against the Tulane Green Wave (18-11, 6-8 Conference USA) is no different and will likely determine whether or not the Pirates (16-11, 7-7 C-USA) earn a first round bye in the conference tournament.
Currently, ECU is tied with UAB and Tulsa for the No. 4 spot in the league standings, but owns the tiebreaker. Since UCF is ineligible to qualify for any postseason tournament due to NCAA violations, the top five teams would virtually receive a bye in the first round.
The Pirates are coming off a difficult second half in Hattiesburg in which they got outscored by the Southern Miss Golden Eagles 53-38—USM led 36-31 at halftime after a back and forth first half.
Despite Saturday’s setback, the Pirates have a positive outlook after taking two of the three games in its season-long road trip.
“Anytime you go on the road and win one you’re happy,” said ECU coach Jeff Lebo. “It put us in a position to be playing meaningful basketball with a lot on the line here on Wednesday.”
Tulane is in its third season under head coach Ed Conroy and coming off a heartbreaking 78-66 loss at Tulsa in which they led by as many 22 points. The Pirates trail the head to head series with the Green Wave 9-6, including a 66-49 loss in New Orleans in their last meeting on March 3, 2012.
The game will feature two of Conference’s USA’s leading scorers—ECU’s Maurice Kemp, 18.0 points per game and 7.7 rebounds, and North Carolina State transfer Josh Davis, 17.2 points per game and 10.2 rebounds.
“(Davis) can play a variety of positions for them. He plays at (center) and he is more like a small forward. He can put it on the floor, he’s got quickness…he’s a terrific offensive rebounder. One of the best in the league,” said Lebo.
Not to be forgotten, sophomore point guard Ricky Tarrant has averaged 16.2 points per game for the Green Wave and joins Pirates senior Miguel Paul as one of the premier point guards in the conference.
Paul admits that even though the road trip was a successful one, there is still work to be done.
“It’s a big game at home. Us knowing we’re still playing ball this late in the season that really means something is really big for the tradition of this school, “said Paul.
As soon as the ball is tipped off at 7 pm on Wednesday, the key matchup will be between ECU’s prolific offense and Tulane’s opportunistic defense. Entering the game, the Pirates own Conference USA’s second ranked scoring offense while the Green Wave counter with the league’s third ranked scoring defense.
ECU sharpshooter Akeem Richmond has a school record in his sights with two games to go. He has made 82 three’s this season, which is thirty more than anybody else in the conference and three shy of Sam Hinnants’s mark in 2008-2009 for the most 3's made in Pirates history.
The game will be broadcast on the Pirate IMG Sports Network from Minges Coliseum with Jeff Charles and Si Seymour behind the microphone.