DYLAN JOHNSON / ESPN GREENVILLE
After much more anticipation earlier in the season that followed a 73-71 upset win over Cincinnati, attention on the East Carolina University Pirates has cooled after losing six of the last seven games.
After defeating last-place Tulane (4-17, 0-9 AAC) last Thursday and losing 76-52 to seventh place UConn (13-9, 4-5 AAC) on Sunday, ECU (9-12, 2-7 AAC) finds itself just above the Green Wave in the conference and solidified in the bottom tier of the conference with
nine games to play.
Another measuring stick game comes up as the Pirates host Wichita State (10-11, 3-6 AAC) Wednesday night in Minges at 7 p.m. on ESPNews.
Other than the Cincy upset, the Tulane win marks the only other win of the conference season for ECU and the Pirates have lost to every other AAC team they have played so far. It’s a reminder that head coach Joe Dooley is in his first season and in the process of completely rebuilding – or more trying to build – a winning culture. That takes time. That may have been lost in the days after the upset win, seeing it was one of the biggest Pirate wins in years.
Another reason people may have gotten ahead of themselves was the exciting play of freshman big Jayden Gardner. Gardner posted the historic 35-point 20-rebound performance against UCF and has garnered several freshman-of-the-week awards. Gardner still averages 18.3
points per game, which is good for fifth in the conference and is a good bet for the Pirates’ second consecutive freshman-of-the-year.
But lately, we’ve been reminded that Gardner is still a freshman and has room to grow. Gardner got into foul trouble and did not play most of the first half against Tulane on his way to 15 points and nine rebounds. Gardner posted another four fouls against UConn
and scored just nine points and grabbed six rebounds.
On top of that, the Pirates are dealing with reigning freshman-of-the-year Shawn Williams struggling with his shooting stroke. On a team that is the worst 3 point shooting team in the AAC –and by a large margin– Williams was the one big threat from deep last season, shooting over 36 percent from 3 and scoring 12.7 points per game. This season Williams is down to about 11 points per game and 27 percent shooting from deep. Williams posted a scoreless game against Houston and just two points against Tulane.
Wichita State isn’t the successful team that has consistently made the NCAA tournament the past few seasons, as the Shockers sit just two spots ahead of ECU in the standings with a 10-11 (3-6 AAC) record.
Wichita State stands in the bottom tier of the conference with ECU, Tulsa, and Tulane and ranks among the bottom in almost every team category. Still yet, the Shockers have won their past two games and boast the conference’s leading scorer, Markis McDuffie and his 19 points per game.