01/13/05 — No. 18 Cincinnati survives ECU upset bid

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No. 18 Cincinnati survives ECU upset bid

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on January 13, 2005 1:56 PM

GREENVILLE - East Carolina is attacking the early, grueling portion of its Conference USA schedule with a workman-like attitude. But the Pirates haven't been able to finish the job.

Despite holding Cincinnati (13-1, 3-0 CUSA) without a field goal in the final four minutes Wednesday evening, East Carolina couldn't complete its upset bid inside Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum. The Bearcats converted crucial free throws down the stretch and prevailed 84-78 in the final regular-season meeting between the two schools.

The 18th-ranked Bearcats, who will join the Big East Conference next season, seized their third straight win after a loss against No. 1-ranked Illinois on Dec. 31.

Meanwhile, the Pirates (5-10) endured their eighth defeat in their last nine outings and remained winless (0-3) against CUSA opposition.

"We've been down this road before and tonight had nothing to do with lack of effort on our part," ECU coach Bill Herrion said. "If you don't bring your lunch pail against Cincinnati, you're going to get exposed. That's the bottom line ... reality."

The contest featured six lead changes and five ties in the opening half. The Pirates owned their last advantage at 16-14 before Cincinnati collected 22 of the next 32 points in a seven-minute span.

The Bearcats created offense off their full-court, 1-2-2 zone trap by causing 14 ECU turnovers. The miscues and the Pirates' impatience in their halfcourt offense allowed the visitors to build a 36-26 lead with just under five minutes remaining before halftime.

Cincinnati shot a blistering 55 percent in the opening half.

"The first-half turnovers really killed us," said Herrion, whose team trailed 46-32 at the break. "You can't recover from that. We told the kids at halftime that this has got to stop. We've got to stop getting stepped on, but I didn't say that in quite those words."

ECU fell further behind at 57-37 just five minutes into the second half. The Bearcats converted a couple of three-point plays and limited the Pirates to one shot on defense.

With six thousand-plus fans growing restless, ECU turned up its defensive intensity and began to get some stops. The feisty Pirates matched the Bearcats' physical play and dominated the boards 26-18 in the second half.

The newfound confidence led to a 12-0 run that ended on Corey Rouse's 3-pointer off Japhet McNeil's assist. What had been a comfortable margin had turned into a three-possession game in a five-minute span.

"We just kept fighting, trying to keep our heads up and get stops on defense," Rouse said. "(At halftime), Coach told us to keep playing hard, play together and not to let up against the 13th-ranked team in the country that had had some easy wins this season."

The Pirates held the Bearcats to 41 percent shooting in the second half and committed just four turnovers. They shot 47.1 percent from the floor against a team that ranked fourth nationally in field-goal percentage defense at .354 and had yet to allow a CUSA opponent to score more than 55 points.

ECU kept the deficit below single digits until Eric Hicks' three-point play and Jahid Muhammad's two free throws boosted the lead to 66-53. The teams traded baskets and the Pirates trailed 78-68 with about three minutes remaining in regulation.

McNeil drove inside for a score and Rouse completed a three-point play on a layup in transition. After a defensive stop, Mike Cook got fouled after missing a layup off a long pass. He hit 1 of 2 at the line, pulling the Pirates within 78-74.

Cincinnati avoided the upset by hitting six free throws in the final 1:32.

Rouse turned in his fifth double-double -- 21 points and 13 rebounds -- of the season. Cook finished with 19 points on 9 of 20 shooting, while Moussa Badiane and Mike Castro chipped in 14 and 10 points, respectively.

"We're playing pretty good basketball, but I know losing is affecting a lot of people in this area," Herrion said. "We're just in a league where the margin for error is microscopic. When you have chances to win games like we did last Wednesday against South Florida, they're like pieces of gold.

"We don't know how to play 40 minutes right now. It's not a moral victory by any stretch."

ECU entertains UAB at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Notes: Cincinnati leads the all-time series 7-0 and is 3-0 in Greenville. ... Senior Moussa Badiane grabbed five rebounds, leaving him two short of becoming the 18th player in ECU history to record 500 rebounds in a career. ... With only four returning lettermen, the Pirates are the youngest team in CUSA. ... The Pirates are 2-9 all-time against CUSA opponents ranked in either the AP or USA Today/ESPN Top 25 polls. ... ECU picked up 47 rebounds against the Bearcats, well above its average of 39.6, which is fourth-best among CUSA teams.