East Carolina gunning for CIT title tonight

By Tony Castleberry

The Daily Reflector

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GREENVILLE — East Carolina’s men’s basketball team is hoping it can transfer some Minges Coliseum magic from Greenville to Ogden, Utah.

After winning four straight CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament games — the last three in dominant fashion — in the friendly confines of Minges, the Pirates (22-12) will play at Weber State (30-6) at 8 (EST) tonight for the CIT championship. A win will give ECU its first-ever postseason trophy and will tie the school record for single-season victories.

“We obviously want to have a chance to do that,” third-year Pirate coach Jeff Lebo said Sunday night before heading out West. “We’ve had four here at home and we’ve done some neat stuff. Now we’re going into a really tough environment against a really good basketball team a long way from home.”

As good as ECU has been at home (17-4), the Wildcats have been even better. Weber is 18-1 in the Dee Events Center this season and, if not for an upset loss to Montana in the Big Sky Conference tournament, the Wildcats would have played in the NCAA tourney.

Led by seventh-year coach Randy Rahe, WSU enters tonight’s game having 17 of its last 18 games. The Wildcats edged Northern Iowa 59-56 last Saturday in Cedar Falls to punch their ticket to the title game.

The Pirates hammered Evansville 81-58 to clinch their berth in the final.

Junior Davion Berry, a 6-foot-4 guard, leads Weber with a 15.2 points per game average while Scott Bamforth, a 6-2 senior guard, averages 13.8 ppg. Center Kyle Tresnak, a 6-10 junior, chips in 11.9 ppg and four other Wildcats average at least 6.4 point per contest each.

“They’re one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country,” Lebo said. “The last four or five years they’ve been the class of the Big Sky. They can score inside, the best post offensive players we will have seen maybe to date and they’ve got terrific shooters on the perimeter.”

For East Carolina, seniors Maurice Kemp and Miguel Paul are two major reasons the Pirates are in the CIT final. Kemp, a 6-8 forward, has scored at least 20 points in his last eight straight games and leads ECU with an 18.8 ppg average to go along with 8.1 boards per contest.

Paul, a 6-1 point guard, is coming off one of his best games of the season, going for 19 points and 11 assists in the Evansville rout. Paul averages 13.0 ppg and a team-high 7.2 assists per outing while junior guard Akeem Richmond is averaging 11.1 ppg, but has not shot the ball well the last three games.

Robert Sampson, a 6-8 junior, leads the Pirates in rebounding (9.2 rpg) while scoring at a 9.0 ppg clip and Ty Armstrong, another 6-8 junior, averages 9.3 points per contest.

Lebo said he knows his club is facing one of its toughest tests of the season, but he is also hoping the Pirates will take advantage of the opportunity in front of them.

“We’ll have our work cut out, but there are a lot teams that aren’t playing (this time of year),” Lebo said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge of going to play (WSU). Our kids, I think, are playing their best basketball right now.”