NC Central is off to strong 5-3 start this season.
But a lack of energy and poor shooting doomed the Eagles in a 69-56 loss to Eastern Carolina on Sunday.
It’s hard to fault the Eagles for loss after an emotion-filled week. They were coming off a huge road win against Missouri and the school at large was dealing with passing of its chancellor. So it’s little surprise that the Eagles were flat throughout the evening.
Leading scorer Patrick Cole started the night 0-for-6 from the floor and this mixed with poor transition defense let the Pirates race out to an early 14-6 lead. ECU pushed the lead to double digits on a three-point shot by Caleb White (20 points) at the 11:18 mark.
The Eagles got an offensive spark in the first half from senior guard Dajuan Graf, who made a few timely jump shots to keep NC Central within striking distance. But it was the defensive side of the ball which was of most concern to head coach LeVelle Moton.
ECU’s length and size made the difference on the offensive glass, as the Pirates grabbed 16 offensive rebounds and scored 11 second chance points.
“We pride ourselves on being tough and competing at the highest level and we just didn’t do that tonight. The most critical indication of that is offensive rebounds,” Moton said after the game.
The closest NC Central would get to ECU was 23-18 on Cole’s first made basket on a pull up jumper in transition with 5:37 left in the first half. ECU would go into the half leading 36-26 and wouldn’t look back.
Throughout the second half, it felt as if the Eagles were one big shot, one loose ball bounce and a stop in transition away from creeping back into the game. ECU led by as many as 13, but NC Central kept the game at a continual eight or nine-point deficit.
NC Central falls to 0-6 all-time against ECU, and missed an opportunity to continue to build its resume against power conferences teams.
Going forward, low post offensive threats, as well as someone to spell Cole, must emerge for the Eagles to be consistent. Indicative of how things have gone this season, the Eagles mustered just 18 points in the paint and relied heavily on perimeter shooting.
The development of leadership is also heavy on Moton’s mind.
Moton expressed his desire to to see how his team would build toughness and who would emerge as leaders in a phone interview before the season. That message is still resonating.
“You ask kids to lead, but I told someone the other day, you say that but if you think about it where did this generation learn how to lead,” he said in his post-game press conference.
In particular, Moton touched on his team becoming more mature, starting with Cole.
“He has to be more mature, I stay on him about that, his talent is his talent you know that’s not going to go anywhere. But, he has to be more coachable, he has to trust the process. It’s almost a novelty to him right now to be quote, unquote ‘the man’ on the team,” Moton said. “You know he’s never been the man even in middle school, high school, college; he’s never been the man. It’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that outside of your talent and I told him I don’t care about you are 5-18 and all of that, I played the game I understand that, but I care about when things aren’t going our way are you huddling those guys up and telling them it’s gone be okay”.
With a veteran group, it will be interesting to see NC Central’s response and growth as the Eagles inch closer to conference play.
They’re back in action at home against LIU Brooklyn on Dec. 6 before a road game at Coastal Carolina on Dec. 10. They then get another chance at a marquee win with a trip to LSU on Dec. 13.