Basketball

Freshman Tristen Newton dribbles to his left against Tulsa earlier this season.

Six wins in seven attempts spanning nearly a month into mid-January has yielded to a three-game skid for the East Carolina University (8-11, 2-4 AAC) men’s basketball team. A trio of losses by a combined 61 points has sent the Pirates reeling after they clawed to get back to .500.

Hampered by an inability to shoot the basketball with any effectiveness, the Pirates are averaging only 62 points per game in conference play, a more than six-point dropoff from their overall season number.

Shooting just above 40% as a team across six league games, ECU is a combined 35-of-130 (26.9%) from three-point range in American Athletic Conference play and a still lackluster 105-of-374 (28.1%) for the campaign.

Averaging under 57 points per game over their last three, the Pirates have been outscored by an average of around 20 points and have allowed league opponents to drop an average of 72.2 points per contest this season.

While the Pirates have played some offensively talented teams on the road over this recent stretch, back-to-back losses by 20 points is not a good sign, especially for a team that seemed to be trending upward.

“One thing we’ve talked about is that we’ve played in some tough venues,” ECU head coach Joe Dooley said according to ECUPirates.com. “Cincinnati is a tough place to play, SMU’s home record is really good. You take the good with the bad, so let’s get back to work.”

In a tough conference, the opponents do not get any easier for Joe Dooley’s squad. ECU’s next opponent, Tulane University (10-8, 2-4 AAC), won just four games last season and finished the campaign on a 21-game losing streak. This year, however, the Green Wave have more than doubled their win total from a season ago with over 10 regular season games remaining on the schedule.

Similar to ECU, Tulane welcomed a slew of newcomers to its roster following last season. Totaling 11, the Green Wave added graduate student guard/forward K.J. Lawson from the University of Kansas (15-3, 5-1 Big 12) and junior guard Teshaun Hightower from the University of Georgia (11-7, 1-4 AAC).

Both having transferred to Tulane in order to bolster its roster, Hightower and Lawson are first and second in points per game at 16.3 and 14, respectively.

Combining for better than 30 points per game, Lawson and Hightower make up better than 43% of Tulane’s scoring on a nightly basis. Averaging 70 points per game as a team, the Green Wave feature a trio of double figure scorers, as graduate student guard Christion Thompson posts 12.6 each time out.

“[Tulane] can score,” Dooley said according to ECUPirates.com. “They’ve got balanced scoring with three guys in double figures, and they muddy the game up playing defensively.”

While ranked 217th in scoring offense, the Green Wave find themselves toward the middle of the pack in scoring defense, allowing just 68.2 points per game.

A team that fails to turn the ball over 12 times a game, Tulane is a top-50 team in the NCAA at notching steals. Averaging 8.2 per game as a program, Thompson is at the center of that attack as he has racked up 34 steals in 18 games to pace the program.

There are, however, plenty of areas in which the Green Wave struggle. Like the Pirates, Tulane has found it difficult to score points in league play. Putting up only 64 per game, including just 54 last week against the University of Tulsa (13-6, 5-1 AAC), Tulane shoots less than 40% from the field in conference play.

Nevertheless that and their negative-5.9 rebounding margin for the season, the Green Wave do feature some consistent shooters from the outside.

Graduate student guard Nic Thomas, yet another transfer head coach Ron Hunter brought in during the offseason, shoots nearly 44% from three-point range. Having sunk 28 of his 64 attempts this season, Thomas has gone four of his last 12 from the outside and has dropped at least five three-pointers on two separate occasions this season.

Just ahead of Thomas in made three-pointers, Lawson shoots 37.8% from range while redshirt sophomore Jordan Walker is right in the middle with his 38.3% mark.

“We can’t let them run around making 3s, that’s a big part of their offense, and we can’t turn it over,” Dooley said according to ECUPirates.com.

Making eight triples on average per game, the Green Wave are 70th in the nation shooting just below 36% from three-point land as a team. Defensively, the Pirates have allowed their opponents to shoot at nearly a 34% clip from that range, a number that drops to 31.3% during conference play.

Not a good rebounding team, Tulane ranks 334th in the country in total boards per game and lags almost four per contest behind what ECU averages on the glass.

Fourteen times this season, sophomore forward Jayden Gardner has paced his team in rebounds and currently averages 9.1 per game. More impressive, however, Gardner finds himself inside the top-20 nationally by averaging 20.6 points per game, more than doubling the next closest Pirate while leading the AAC.

Freshman forward/guard Brandon Suggs is that next Pirate, posting 10.1 points per game. Over his last two contests, Suggs has dropped back-to-back career-highs in points and is averaging 17 per game over that span.

Playing inside Minges Coliseum for the first time in 10 days, the Pirates will no doubt be happy to see their home arena. Despite its loss to Tulsa on Jan. 15, ECU is 7-3 at home this season and generally seem to play better basketball in Minges.

On Saturday, that will once again be put to the test as the Pirates will go for their ninth win of the campaign for the fourth time.

Tip-off between the Pirates and Green Wave is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Saturday.

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