East Carolina faces big challenge vs. SMU

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For East Carolina interim coach Michael Perry, Thursday's 80-69 win over Temple in the opening game of the American Athletic Conference tournament at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn., was a classic good-news, bad-news situation.

The good news, of course, is that the Pirates extend their season for at least another day. The bad news, though, is that they have to face AAC season champion SMU in the first quarterfinal Friday.

"It's like one of those comedy skits," Perry said. "They beat a lot of teams in this league like someone owed them money. They are really, really good. They are good at every level, every facet of the game. Outside of praying, we've got to figure out some other things that we've got to do to show them some different looks."

Whatever the Pirates (15-17) tried the last time they faced the No. 12 Mustangs (27-4), it sure didn't work. SMU routed them 86-46 on Feb. 1, part of its amazing stretch of 23 wins in 24 games in which it has outscored opponents by an average of 17.3 points per game.

That also includes a 75-44 pounding of East Carolina on Dec. 31 in Greenville, N.C., and an AAC-clinching 103-62 clobbering of Memphis on Saturday in Dallas. Sterling Brown put up a 26-point, 10-rebound double-double in his final home game, improving the Mustangs' winning streak to 13 games.

Although SMU cut nets as confetti and streamers descended upon it, Brown had his eyes focused squarely on a bigger picture.

"We still have a few games left and we've got a goal that we haven't reached yet," he said.

Among the many accolades the Mustangs boast are the AAC's Coach of the Year in Tim Jankovich, its Player of the Year in Semi Ojeleye, and four of their five starters on the conference's first two teams. Brown, Ben Moore and Shake Milton were second-team picks, while Ben Emelogu is the AAC's Sixth Man of the Year.

Ojeleye averaged 18.5 points and 6.5 rebounds, sinking 48.4 percent of his field goals and 43.1 percent from the 3-point line. Milton (13.3 ppg, 42.9 percent on 3s), Brown (12.8 ppg, 6.8 rebounds) and Moore (11.8 ppg, 138 assists) also averaged in double figures. Fifth starter Jerrey Foster chipped in 9.9 ppg and canned almost 44 percent on 3s.

No wonder Perry seemed somewhat perplexed on how to try to slow SMU down.

"We have a formidable opponent, almost an impossible opponent to face," he said. "Almost all their guys are represented (on) the all-conference team. They have guys that can score in multiple ways, multiple position guys. But we're going to be competitive, and we're going out with the intention of winning a basketball game."

Sophomore forward Kentrell Barkley did his share and then some to beat Temple, delivering a 26-point, 16-rebound double-double despite a knee injury that left Perry unsure about whether he would play. Barkley is East Carolina's top scorer at 12.4 points and also leads in rebounding at 7.5.

The winner advances to a Saturday semifinal against Memphis or Central Florida.