East Carolina (11-6, 0-2 Conference-USA) meets Florida International (9-9, 1-2 C-USA) as the Pirates continue their South Florida road trip in search of their first C-USA win.
For the second time this season, ECU will look to avoid its first three-game losing streak in almost two years. The Pirates dropped a 78-67 decision to Florida Atlantic on Thursday.
Thursday was the fourth time in five games ECU was held to less than 80 points. Not for lack of trying, either. The Pirates jumped to an early 15-4 lead but finished the first half with a 33-30 lead. Their downfall was that they shot only 33.3 percent from the field in the second half, which allowed FAU to break away.
Their 67 points and 36.8 field goal percentage are both season lows.
On the other hand, ECU allowed opponents to shoot over 50 percent from the field in four of its last six outings. FIU enters Saturday’s matchup averaging 44.3 percent from the field and 68.2 points a game.
Low shooting percentage was the story of Thursday’s game, but poor interior defense has been the more consistent story as of late. Both ODU and FAU were able to get away with about anything down low. If the Pirates can’t secure the paint against FIU, it’ll be hard for them to escape South Florida with their first conference win.
FIU has four players averaging double digits. Senior Tymell Murphy leads the Panthers with an average of 16.4 a night. Last time out, Murphy accounted for 20 of the team’s 36 points en route to a second conference loss against Old Dominion.
Standing opposite of Murphy is senior Akeem Richmond. The Pirates will, as usual, look for Richmond to lead the squad’s scoring. ODU held Richmond pointless in the first half last Saturday, but he bounced back nicely and recorded 20 points against FAU on Thursday.
Murphy is formidable for reasons other than scoring, too. As a duo, Murphy and fellow senior Rakeem Buckles have a combined 59 blocked shots—the most of any pairing in C-USA. As a team, FIU ranks third in the conference in blocking and is averaging 4.4 a game. ECU averages 3.4.
If that’s not enough, that same Panther duo leads the conference with a combined 307 rebounds. ECU will have trouble getting shots off and finding second chance opportunities.
ECU can swipe the glass, too. Buckles may lead the conference in rebounding (9.3 per game), but freshman Brandan Stith is right behind him. Stith ranks second with 9.1 boards a game. Sophomore Michael Zangari contributes, too. He had 10 rebounds—in addition to 14 points—en route to his first career double-double.
The Pirates and Panthers will tip off at 5 p.m. in U.S. Century Bank Arena in Miami before ECU heads home to host Tulane and Southern Miss next week. The game can be found on the Pirates IMG Network and live updates can be found by following IES on Twitter at @InsideECUSports.