Photo Courtesy: UCF Athletics
By John Weis (’94)
Next UCF Opponent: East Carolina Pirates (15-15, 6-11 AAC)
2021-2022 Record: 15-15 (6-11 AAC)
Coach: Michael Schwartz (1st Season, 15-15 Overall)
Last Game: 3/3 at Tulane (L. 81-78)
Opening Tip: 3/5 2:00 pm, Addition Financial Arena (TV: ESPN Plus)
Opponent at a Glance
The regular-season finale is upon us, and the Knights look to close it on a positive note after finding yet another creative way to lose a close game.
For the second game in a row, the Knights catch a break, as their opponent’s leading scorer is out with injury. This time it’s 6’2” Sophomore guard Javon Small (15.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 5.8 apg, who’s also their second-leading rebounder and leading assist man. He was injured in mid-January and has not returned. It would be shocking if they brought him back at this point, even if completely healthy and ready to play. In the first game against the Knights, Small had an off night, scoring just five points on 2-12 shooting from the floor, though he did have five rebounds and eight assists.
Their current active leading scorer is 6’3” Sophomore RJ Felton (13.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg – up from 5.1 ppg last year). Also seeing major improvement from last season is 6’8” Sophomore Brandon Johnson (12.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg – up from 4.7 ppg and 5.1 rpg as a Freshman). Felton and Johnson co-led the Pirates in this year’s first UCF-ECU meeting with 16 points apiece.
The Pirates have also gotten an immediate contribution from 6’8” true Freshman Ezra Ausar, who averages 9.0 points and 4.8 rebounds, and shoots an impressive 58.4% from the floor. Another freshman who was receiving steady minutes until recently is the diminutive 5’8” Los Angeles native Kalib LaCount (4.2 ppg, 1.6 rpg).
The transfer portal brought 6’8” Quentin Diboundje (7.2 ppg, 1.7 rpg), a Montverde Academy product who followed Coach Michael Schwartz to Greenville; and 6’5” Jaden Walker (7.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg) from Iowa State. 6’6” Benjamin Bayela, a native of France, contributes 3.6 points and 2.5 rebounds per contest. The elder statesman of the team is 7’0” center Ludgy Debaut (2.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg), a Graduate Senior.
Two years ago, 6’2” Wynston Tabbs scored 13.3 points per game at Boston College before transferring to ECU last offseason. Unfortunately, Tabbs was forced to undergo knee surgery that kept him out for the entire campaign – the second such season-ender of his college career. Sadly, this story has an unfortunate end, as he left the team just after the new year to focus on his health. In 13 games this year, he averaged just 3.5 points a game.
The first game between the two teams was the CJ Kelly show. The Knights’ smooth-shooting guard erupted for 30 points as the Knights held off the Pirates 64-61 on ECU’s home floor.
Despite losing Small to injury, the Pirates have rallied. They’ve captured four of their last seven conference games, including decisions over SMU and Cincinnati to go along with the recent win over Tulane in the first of what ended up being back-to-back contests against the Green Wave. The most recent of the two, played on March 3, was a make-up game from the February 11 postponement due to the sudden death of longtime ECU broadcaster Jeff Charles.
For the season, ECU averages 69.5 points per game and gives up 70.5. In conference play, they’ve scored 67.1 and surrendered 72.1.
The Knights lead the all-time series 29-9 – including the last 15 in a row, despite some close calls.
The Knights were fortunate to win both games versus East Carolina last year, as one was decided by three points and the other one went to overtime. Darius Perry and Brandan Mahan each scored 19, helping the Knights win the first one in Greenville; while Darin Green Jr’s 19 paced the Knights to a win at home.
The ESPN Game predictor gives the Knights a whopping 93.4 percent chance to win.
ECU Coach Michael Schwartz has done a remarkable job developing their young players and keeping the Pirates competitive despite the injury to Small and the inability of Tabbs to return to his past form. Much like UCF’s previous opponent, Temple, the Pirates are young and likely will be difficult to deal with in what’s left of the AAC next season.
The former Pirate who’s had arguably the best NBA career is Theodore “Blue” Edwards, who enjoyed a 10-year stint in the league, during which he played for five different teams (Utah, Milwaukee, Boston Vancouver, and Miami). In the 1988-1989 season as a Pirate, he finished sixth in the nation in scoring, leading the Jazz to select him with the 21st overall selection in the 1989 NBA Draft. Over the course of his career, Edwards averaged just over 10 points per game and was known as one of the league’s high flyers.
See you at tournament time, our last as a member of the AAC. Onward and upward … but let’s do some damage on our way out the door!
John Weis is a freelance Writing/PR professional. His company, Weis Words (www.weiswords.biz) serves national clients such as advertising agencies, public relations firms and sports organizations, as well as small businesses and private individuals. A native Central Floridian and basketball enthusiast, he spent six seasons as Broadcast Coordinator for the Orlando Magic Radio Network early in his career. He graduated from UCF in 1994 with a degree in Communications and can’t wait for the Knights to move to the Big XII.