East Carolina-North Carolina Preview

The Associated Press

North Carolina will have to take care of a familiar face at home before it seeks redemption on the road.

The 21st-ranked Tar Heels seek their third straight win Saturday as they host an East Carolina program coached by former Carolina standout Jeff Lebo.

Lebo played under Dean Smith from 1985-89, with current coach Roy Williams serving as an assistant for Lebo's first three seasons. He first coached against his alma mater while at Tennessee Tech in 1999, and was defeated 85-59.

"It's exciting to go back and it's exciting for our players to give them an opportunity to play on that stage in that atmosphere," Lebo said. "I think it's going to be really helpful to our team and to our players. I think it's something they'll remember and they're really looking forward to this game."

Lebo's Pirates (6-1) are in for a challenge against a North Carolina squad that is coming off a pair of blowout home victories since an 83-59 loss at No. 1 Indiana on Nov. 27.

The Tar Heels (7-2), who visit Texas on Wednesday, defeated East Tennessee State 78-55 last Saturday. UNC went on a 34-2 run in the first half and allowed 12 points in the period - the lowest scoring total for a half in the history of the almost 27-year-old Smith Center.

The Tar Heels once again distributed the ball effectively, assisting on 30 of 31 field goals. They are leading the country with 20.1 assists per game, and have tallied 26 or more in three of four contests.

The return of freshman point guard Marcus Paige helped after he missed one game with a shoulder injury. Paige recorded a season-high seven assists.

"I believe we're a very unselfish team," said Reggie Bullock, who is third on the team at 3.2 assists per game. "We try to share the ball to the best of our ability. We always try to find the open shooters and get the ball inside to the big man to finish strong. I think we did well sharing the ball and getting people open shots."

Although Williams turned to his reserves early after halftime, he wasn't happy that his team was outscored 43-36 in the second half.

"I don't like to say this, but we couldn't maintain that same type of intensity in the second half," Williams said. "I wish we could have, but we didn't."

Lebo is coming off his 250th career victory as ECU defeated NAIA school St. Andrews 111-59 on Dec. 4. The Pirates scored their most points since a 111-81 win over The Citadel on Dec. 4, 1975, and also tallied 30 assists.

After shooting 26.2 percent from 3-point range in their first six games, they set a school record by hitting 18-of-36 from distance.

"We haven't really been shooting the ball all that well, but we're capable of doing that and we proved that tonight," said Akeem Richmond, who hit 5 of his 10 3-point tries. "Hopefully it carries on during the season in the other games."

East Carolina could certainly use some hot shooting Saturday considering it is 0-44 all-time on the road against ranked opponents.

North Carolina won both prior meetings, most recently 85-65 in the first round of the 1993 NCAA tournament.

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