Dec 172012
 

Monday, December 17, 2012

 

CHAPEL HILL

They limped through the hallway outside their locker room in the bowels of the Dean E. Smith Center looking like walking billboards for Reddy Ice.

With bags of ice taped to various body parts, it was easy to see East Carolina forwards Maurice Kemp and Robert Sampson were feeling physical pain following a hardfought loss at North Carolina on Saturday afternoon. Point guard Miguel Paul repeatedly threw his body into the teeth of the No. 21 Tar Heels’ defense and left the game with a twisted ankle, a sore knee and an assortment of other bumps and bruises.

Chances are few, if any, Pirates who saw extended time on the Dean Dome hardwood departed UNC’s campus completely unscathed. As uncomfortable as those aches in their muscles, joints and bones might have been, East Carolina’s minds — both singular and collectively — deserved to be at ease after the Pirates’ performance in the second half of Carolina’s 93-87 victory.

Down 18 points with a little more than 7 minutes left in the game, ECU played arguably its best stretch of basketball so far this season, running its offense with crisp efficiency, battling the Tar Heels on each possession on the boards and even successfully using a full-court press, a tactic coach Jeff Lebo rarely employs.

It was a somewhat surreal scene watching the Pirates, who just moments earlier seemed destined to be on the losing end of a blowout, whittle Carolina’s lead to four points two times in the final 30 seconds as the Tar Heels and their fans became visibly disturbed at the proceedings. Despite the final score, deep down, everyone in the building wearing sky blue knew which team played better down the stretch.

As inspired as its comeback attempt was, there were a handful of key plays East Carolina could not make that prevented the Pirates from pulling even closer and possibly tying the game or taking the lead as the final seconds ticked away. The importance of an ill-timed turnover here, a missed box out there, even a couple of missed free throws, becomes magnified when the final margin of victory is a mere six points against a team that has so many banners hanging from the rafters it might take 15 minutes to count them all.

Sure, ECU was disappointed after losing for the second time in eight games this season and several banged up Pirates limped toward the team bus after Saturday’s game, but at least they could do so with their heads held high.

Contact Tony Castleberry at tcastleberry@reflector.com, 252-329-9591 or follow @tcastleberrygdr on Twitter.

COMMENTARY

via The Daily Reflector.

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