Eagles prepare for ECU

Coach Randy Peele watches the Eagles during practice Wednesday.
Coach Randy Peele watches the Eagles during practice Wednesday.

Winthrop visits East Carolina at 7 p.m. today in a game that, on paper at least, the Eagles should win.

They've beaten the Pirates three straight times by an average of 18 points and made it look easy. East Carolina (2-3) is coming off a 6-24 season and the firing of coach Ricky Stokes. Coach Mack McCarthy, for now, is wearing an "interim" tag.

There are probably a lot of fans out there marking this one down in the "W" column.

"That's what fans do," Winthrop coach Randy Peele said.

But Peele, whose team is 3-2 and losers of two straight for the first time since December 2005, isn't marking anything down. He knows ECU's talent, some of which he tried to recruit, and knows what can happen when a young team like his starts looking past an opponent.

"I know what this game's about," Peele said, "and the kids know. They're not going to sneak up on us."

After the Eagles lost a 22-point lead and fell to Missouri State Sunday, 73-69, Peele had a long night. He was up until 2 a.m. Monday looking at film. By lunch Monday he'd gone through six hours of tape study, most of it on his team.

He spent a lot of time Monday going over those tapes with his players, showing them what they'd done wrong and where they have to get better. He likes the way they responded.

"Our basketball IQ is not where it needs to be right now," Peele said, "and that showed up Sunday."

To beat East Carolina, the Eagles have to play a lot smarter. While the Pirates' record isn't very good, their talent is.

"(Gabe) Blair is very good, (John) Fields is very good," Peele said. "There's no question they have talent. They're trying to find a way to win. So, we've still got to play well.

"And after we lost Torrell Martin, Craig Bradshaw, Phillip Williams and De'Andre Adams, they're probably looking at us as a game they can win, too."

Last year, the Eagles went to Minges Coliseum and hung a 69-50 loss on the Pirates, a game that took place over the Christmas break. Few fans showed up, which probably won't be the case tonight. Despite the slow start, the Pirates are averaging about 4,000 fans.

"And this," Peele said, "is our first true road game. How will we play on the road?"

Assistant coach Larry Dixon spent three seasons on Stokes' staff at ECU before coming to Winthrop. He helped recruit more than half the players on the roster. On Tuesday, he was the man putting together the scouting report.

"They'll try to pressure us," he said. "They want to be a transition team. About 33 percent of their shots are 3-pointers, and one thing that concerns me is they can make enough of them to beat you."

Dixon said the Pirates love to use ball screens, which is what Missouri State used to scramble Winthrop's defense.

"I'm sure they got that Missouri State tape," Dixon said.

ECU guards Darrell Jenkins, Sam Hinnant and Cory Farmer have combined for 118 shots, 65 of them 3-pointers, and a third of the team's field goals have come from behind the arc. They shoot 43 percent overall, 32 percent on threes.

"We've got to defend the 3-point line," Peele said.

And the Pirates have also shuffled the lineup a bit the last two games, inserting 6-foot-10, 240-pound Chad Wynn, a redshirt freshman, and a Brock Young, a 5-11 freshman point guard, into the lineup. Young, Peele said, was a "borderline" ACC recruit. Dixon said Wynn is a low post player who "can score with either hand."

Last year at ECU, Michael Jenkins, a native of Kinston, N.C., about 25 miles from Greenville, scored 19 points, hitting half of his 10 3-pointers.

Jenkins had 23 in Sunday's loss to Missouri State, a setback that left the Eagles "sad and disappointed," Peele said. How the team bounces back is another concern.

Jenkins addressed that somewhat Sunday, when asked if the loss to Missouri State took some of the luster off the win over Georgia Tech at the Paradise Jam.

"That was at the time a good win," Jenkins said, "but you know the next team is going to try and knock you off. You can't keep looking back.

"I can't remember the last time we lost two in a row, so this is tough. We've got to bounce back."