With the chance to right the ship during a five-game homestand, the East Carolina University (2-7, 0-0 AAC) men’s basketball team instead fell to Coppin State University (4-6, 0-0 MEAC) by a score of 85-75 on Tuesday in Minges Coliseum.
“Obviously very disappointed,” head coach Joe Dooley said following the game. “I thought Coppin was the aggressor, scored 40 points in the paint, kept us on our heels and very disappointed in the way we responded.”
In what was ultimately the Pirates’ seventh loss in nine games, ECU’s first half performance did little to aid its cause on Tuesday night.
For the second straight game, sophomore guard Tremont Robinson-White found himself in the starting lineup after missing the first seven games nursing an injury. Junior center/forward Edra Luster, one of the Pirates’ 11 newcomers to the 2019-2020, received his first start of the year, making Tuesday night’s lineup the eighth different one used by Dooley in the first nine games.
“It’s just a new feel for us and the coaches and we’re just trying to figure out everything,” sophomore forward Jayden Gardner said. “Rotation, guy’s roles, it’s changing every game, guys back. It’s just frustrating that we got so much talent on this team, we just got to be able to execute and figure it out.”
Fresh off an 89-point effort in which they set season-highs in points (89), three-point baskets made (13) and three-point field goal percentage (48.1%), the Pirates looked less sharp out of the gate against the Eagles of Coppin State.
Before their first basket, the Pirates had racked up two turnovers but held the early lead 11-7 at the first media timeout. After a 6-0 run by the Eagles, however, the Pirates found themselves locked into a 16-16 game mid-way through the first half.
Graduate student Aaron Robinson racked up 11 first half points, helping the Eagles stretch out a 13-3 run spanning the final 6:48 before the break. At the same time, ECU’s offense went stone cold from the floor and completed the opening 20 minutes with zero points in its last 4:23.
Accompanying that drought was a 1-of-13 effort from the floor for the Pirates as they entered the half shooting 36% from the field. Up by a score of 39-31 at the half, the Eagles shot a blistering 52% from the field including 36% from behind the arch.
“We talked about it, we didn’t think we played well in the first half,” Dooley said. “We actually got off to a decent start but we weren’t guarding anybody so it was almost fools gold because we got easy baskets, but we gave up easy baskets, started trading. That doesn’t win, we all know that. If you give up easy points, you’re going to get beat at some point.”
With a hole to dig out of in the second half, that is exactly what the Pirates did in the closing 20 minutes of action. Despite taking until the 16:16 mark to finally find the bottom of the basket, ECU bounced back to score 44 points on 38.9% shooting.
While that was an improvement over their first half numbers, the Pirates still remained ice cold from beyond the arch. On 14 attempts only three three-points baskets fell, contributing to a 7-for-30 effort from long-range for ECU on Tuesday.
“That’s toughness. You’re wide open and you turn down an open shot because you missed your last one, that’s not being tough,” Dooley said. “We turned down four shots, four open threes in the first half and drove them into bad shots when we had good, open threes.”
Certainly, with the exception of two games this season, the Pirates have struggled shooting the basketball while continuously yielding easy, high-percentage shots to their opponents.
Tuesday was more of the same in that department as the Eagles shot 51% from the floor for the game, including 52% in the first half. Accompanied with the fact that Coppin State made 10-of-29 shots from beyond the arch, and it started to become clear the Pirates are still lacking on the defensive end.
“Sucked. We sucked. We sucked on defense, another thing we got to figure out during this stretch,” Gardner said. “We got to be able to guard people, got to be able to stay in front of our man.”
Of the eight Coppin State players to see action on Tuesday, five scored in double figures. Topped by junior guard/forward Koby Thomas with 19 points, the Eagles shot 34.5% from beyond the arch and only missed three free throws compared to the Pirates’ nine misses from the stripe.
For the Pirates, Gardner once again led the way with 22 points scored, including 16 in the second half. Three more ECU players joined him in double digits as junior guard Tyrie Jackson (12 points and seven rebounds) and sophomore guard Tremont Robinson-White (10 points and four rebounds) posted solid showings in the loss.
“It sucks to lose and this probably hits home the worst,” Gardner said. “We’re going to come back, regroup and get ready for (our next game) and then the opponent after that. Just got to be mentally tough throughout this stretch and get better during practice.”
After a gauntlet of games in the first month of the season, the Pirates will get 10 days off before their next contest on Dec. 14. As Gardner alludes to, that time will be used to further establish continuity within the lineup. Early in the season, a number of players have missed time with injuries.
While Robinson-White and Jackson are back, the Pirates lost junior center Ludgy Debaut for the season while redshirt senior Seth LeDay missed yet another game with an injury. Obviously, with only one repeated lineup through the season’s first month of action, Dooley is still searching for the right combination on the court. Following Tuesday’s loss, it is clear that search is far from over.
“The good thing is, we got 23 games left. We can get hot and figure some things out during this stretch,” Gardner said.
ECU will be back in action on Dec. 14 against Campbell University (6-2, 0-0 Big South) in Minges Coliseum. Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m.