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Conference USA Notebook

January 6, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Conference USA Notebook

by Zach Van Hart

Deja vu, Pirate style

Last season, the then No. 9 Marquette Golden Eagles traveled to East Carolina and were stunned by the Pirates, 51-46. Marquette knew they could ill afford to take ECU lightly again, and still they could not stop from being upset one more time. Last Monday, No. 12 Marquette fell to the Pirates at Minges Coliseum, this time by the score 73-70. The game was the first C-USA game of the season throughout the league. What a way to start the season, one that appears to be wide open.

East Carolina duplicated the performance that produced an upset last season: that is to contain Dwayne Wade. He finished with 21 points, but shot just seven-for-seventeen from the field and missed two shots during the final minute of play. Gabriel Mikulas led the Pirates with 22 points and eleven rebounds. Mikulas even admitted the team played almost outside itself. “When you play a ranked team, you give sometimes more than what you have,” said Mikulas.

The Pirates appeared to have the upset in the bag when they led by nine with only two and a half minutes remaining. But you do not ascend to the top of the country without some heart. Marquette rolled off nine straight points to knot the score at 70. Then on the next ECU possession, junior Derrick Wiley drew a foul from Wade and headed to the line for two crucial free throws. Wiley had missed a lay-up on the previous possession, and was looking for redemption. “I wanted to shoot those free throws because I was mad,” Wiley said. “I knew I had to do something to make up for (the miss).”

Wiley found his redemption, calmly sinking both free throws. Marquette worked for the final shot, but Wade missed a short jumper with ten seconds left. Moussa Badiane grabbed the rebound and was quickly fouled. He hit one of two free throws, giving the Golden Eagles one last chance. But Wade and Steve Novack both missed desperation three-pointers as time expired. As the buzzer rang, a celebration quite similar to last season broke out at midcourt, in a sea of purple and yellow. With the win, ECU declared its emergence as a team no one can afford to overlook. Now the proud owners of a 10-2 record, the Pirates are looking to make a run at not only a winning conference record, but contend for the top spot in the conference. In this topsy-turvy season, anything appears possible.

40 minutes was not enough

If the East Carolina loss wasn’t bad enough, the Dayton Flyers added insult to injury when they knocked off Marquette, 92-85, Saturday afternoon in front of a nationally-televised crowd on ESPN. Scott Merritt’s putback late in the game gave the Eagles a two-point lead, 78-76. Dayton closed the gap to within one, and then with the clock clicking to less than ten seconds, Keith Waleskowski drove to the hoop and was fouled. An 85 percent free-throw shooter, Waleskowski missed the first before hitting the second, sending the game into the extra period. In OT, the Flyers proved to be too much, as Marquette did not score during the final three and a half minutes. Marquette dropped to 8-3, but more importantly to 0-3 on the road.

While the Eagles stumbled, the Louisville Cardinals’ case of being the top team in the league grew a little bit stronger. Coming off its blowout of Kentucky, the Cards traveled to Columbus, Ohio to face a tough Ohio State team. Early on, it appeared Louisville was still reveling in their win against their intra-state rival, as they trailed by fourteen at the break. Then the Bryant Northern and Reece Gaines show began. Northern scored all of his eighteen points and Gaines scored all of his fourteen points during the second half and overtime. Two late Brent Darby free throws for OSU provided free basketball for the Buckeye fans, but during the extra five minutes, Louisville completed the comeback. The Cardinals are now 8-1, and should expect to crack the Hoopville top 25.

Riding the Wave

Several weeks ago, the Tulane Green Wave was reported in this notebook to be in trouble, struggling out of the gate this season. While their problems are far from cured, they did take a big step on the road to recovery last week with two huge wins, one figuratively and one literally. Thursday night, Tulane easily defeated Georgia Tech, 80-66. Tech is a young but talented squad, one that will make some noise in the always brutal ACC. Handling the Yellow Jackets the way they did was a much needed confidence boost for the Green Wave. Feeling though they needed more to smile about, Tulane trounced poor Morris Brown Saturday, 88-30. With the win, the Green Wave climbed back above .500 with a record of 7-6. For Tulane, the three-headed monster of Brandon Brown, Waitari Marsh and Brandon Spann continue to control the fate of the team.

No clever sayings go with Billikens

Another team who continues to ride the wave of inconsistency is the Saint Louis Billikens. The Billikens smashed the surprisingly resilient West Virginia Mountaineers, 75-45. However, not before they were handed their jock straps by Kansas State Thursday evening to the tune of 65-48. They are looking very similar to Tulane and even own a nearly identical record (6-5). SLU found a new way to lose against KSU: the disappearance of their star, Marque Perry. Perry may have played during the Wildcats loss, but he really never left Missouri. Perry finished with a season-low three points on one-of-ten shooting from the field. With no other clear go-to-guy, the Billikens can ill-afford to have Perry disappear for a game like that. However, during the WVU blowout win, Saint Louis may have found someone other than Perry to carry the squad. Sophomore Izik Ohanaon, ineligible for the first eight games of the season, scored a season and game-high eighteen points during the win. Perhaps the ship is starting to right for SLU.

Everyone loves buzzer beaters

Nothing like a made last-second shot to propel a team to a long win streak. This is what the Southern Miss faithful is hoping for after Saturday’s 56-54 win against Murray State. The Eagles improved to 7-4 and more importantly regained some momentum after a good ole’ fashion butt-whooping from Auburn earlier during the week. During Saturday’s game, the Racers tied the score at 54 with thirteen seconds remaining. Then with only 0.9 seconds remaining, sophomore James Pattman connected on a short-runner, saving the day for Southern Miss. Now the Eagles prepare for C-USA play as they face TCU Wednesday evening.

Bearcats want Moore

Cincinnati may have found a diamond in the rough, and a solution to their offensive woes Thursday evening. With starting point guard Taron Barker out with an injured back, freshman Chadd Moore received the start. Despite playing only five minutes total during the team’s first nine games, Moore scored twelve points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out eight assists, as the Bearcats took care of Chattanooga easily, 81-51. The 81 points was a season-high for Cincinnati, and a lot seemed to be in part to Moore’s control of the offense. When Barker returns from his injury, it will be interesting to see if Moore continues to receive significant playing time, or even start.

Player of the week

Chris Massie, Memphis

Massie averaged seventeen points and ten rebounds during the Tigers’ three wins last week. Memphis is currently one of the hottest teams in the land, and Massie is a big reason for this.

Games to watch

Marquette at Saint Louis, Tuesday at 7 p.m.

The Eagles are 0-3 on the road. Ohanaon is just now gearing up for Saint Louis after missing the first eight games. Another loss for Marquette could cast a dark cloud over the season very quickly.

UAB at South Florida, Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Morris Finley has led the surprising Blazers and Will McDonald has been surprisingly spectacular for the Bulls. Something has to give here as UAB tries to climb out of its role as bottom feeder in C-USA.

East Carolina at Charlotte, Saturday at 7 p.m.

The Pirates have proven they can defeat anyone at home. Now they must go into a hostile environment. The Niners are always tough at home, and have the conference’s best three-pointer shooter in Demon Brown.


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