East Carolina Pirates Showing Signs of Life for Next Season, Knock Off Memphis in Overtime

“Well hello there, Shawn Williams.”

I found myself thinking this repeatedly during yesterday’s ECU-Memphis game, during which the Tigers worked hard to torpedo their own NCAA Tournament hopes.

There were numerous issues with this game; Memphis allowing the worst three-point shooting team in the country to go 11-for-24 from distance, Kyvon Davenport using the last possession to drive for a contested shot instead of a dish to the open man and then missing one of his two free-throws, and not having any answers for Shawn Williams.

I won’t go in too hard on that three-point performance because Memphis is just as bad defending them (#308) as ECU is at making them, so something had to give. I won’t fault Davenport either since not passing wasn’t really a bad choice, and missing the free throw didn’t lose the game, it just kept the Tigers from winning in overtime.

Instead, let’s talk about ECU and Williams.

It’s been a rough year for the Pirates; non-conference losses to the likes of Radford, Central Connecticut and North Carolina A&T didn’t set a good tone early, nor did Jeff Lebo’s abrupt resignation after that NCA&T game. Their last loss (a miracle shot to get to an overtime loss against Tulane) was the first time in almost a month that they lost by less than 16.

A thinned-out bench had the team pushing for solutions and giving multiple freshmen significant minutes. Then Aaron Jackson reinjured his shoulder, and Justin Whatley also got hurt, and the wheels on the bus were rolling down the road.

But the lights have started to flicker back on lately. Both Jackson and Whatley haven’t played massive minutes, but their injuries appear to not have been season ending as it was first feared.

Most importantly, the lights seem to have come on fully for Shawn Williams. Last night wasn’t so much a coming-out party as it was the continuation of a positive trend. Heading into the Pirates’ home game against Houston, Williams was shooting only 31.6% from the field and 28.8% from distance, good for only 7.7 points per game.

Starting with that game and including last night, Williams is now averaging 18.8 points per game thanks to 52% shooting from the field and 43.4% three-point shooting (and that’s including his 4-for-12 outing against SMU); this is extra impressive when you consider that both his overall and three-point shooting have increased during that time. Turns out that when you both take and make more shots, good things happen.

The play of Williams, but also fellow freshmen Whatley and Dimitri Spasojevic, gives the Pirates something to build on as the season winds down and should make the offseason loss of leading scorer B.J. Tyson sting a lot less next season. It might even give them a few more opportunities to play spoiler this season, as they’ve still got another outing against everyone but UC, USF, and Wichita.

It hasn’t been a great year in Greenville, but thing are looking up this past month, and that’s a trend liable to continue into next season.

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