GAME NOTES: The Tulsa Hurricane will begin a two-game homestand at the Reynolds Center on Thursday night when they take on the East Carolina Pirates in Conference USA action.
ECU has not fared well in conference play this season, going just 2-7, but it has turned things around of late with wins in two of its last three. The Pirates most recently downed Texas-San Antonio at home on Saturday, 81-71, to improve to 13-11 overall.
Tulsa actually owns a worse overall record than ECU at 11-12, but it has played its best basketball of the season during its C-USA schedule, winning six of nine conference matchups. The Golden Hurricane went on the road on Saturday and dismissed Rice, 66-56, and now they return home to the Reynolds Center where they've impressed at 8-3.
The Golden Hurricane have a 10-2 advantage over the Pirates in the all-time series. The teams split the 2012-13 series, with Tulsa winning in the C-USA Tournament, 79-72.
The Pirates took an eight-point lead into intermission last weekend versus UTSA and extended their advantage to as many as 20 down the stretch as they held on the for the easy win. They shot 50 percent from the field on the afternoon and were paced by a 31-point effort by Akeem Richmond, who shot 4- of-10 from 3-point range and made all 15 of his free-throw attempts. Caleb White chipped in 18 points, Michael Zangari narrowly missed a double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds and Prince Williams came off the bench to tally 10 points and five assists.
On the season, ECU has performed very well on the offensive end of the floor by scoring 76.5 ppg on 45 percent field-goal shooting, but it has been hindered by a lackluster scoring defense (72.2 ppg). Richmond is the catalyst with 18.8 ppg, and his 111 3-pointers ranks second in the nation behind only Oakland's Travis Bader. Paris Campbell only shoots 38.8 percent from the field for 13.0 ppg, but he has nearly twice as many assists (79) as turnovers (42). Caleb White (12.4 ppg), Zangari (9.1 ppg) and Williams (9.0 ppg) round out the balanced attack.
The Golden Hurricane outlasted Rice in their most recent tilt by outshooting their opponent from the field, 43.1 percent to 36.7 percent, while earning slight advantages in the rebounding (37-35) and turnover (13-11) battles. They were able to overcome a lackluster 2-of-11 showing from 3-point range by knocking down 20-of-31 at the free-throw line. Rashad Smith made a big splash off the bench with 18 points and seven rebounds, while James Woodard and Brandon Swannegan netted 15 and 10 points, respectively.
Tulsa is able to successfully outpace its opponents this season by shooting 43.7 percent from the field for 73.1 ppg, while allowing 71.1 ppg on just 42 percent shooting. It also sports a positive turnover margin (+2.0) but gets outrebounded by 1.2 boards per tilt. Woodard not only scores a team-best 14.4 ppg while draining 41 3-pointers at a 37.6 percent clip but he also adds 6.3 rpg and 1.0 spg. Smith (12.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and Shaquille Harrison (9.8 ppg, 3.5 apg) are also regular contributors.
Although ECU has been on the upswing of late, it has still not performed well on the road (3-5), which will likely prove troublesome against Tulsa at Reynolds Coliseum.
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