NCAA

UNC alum Jeff Lebo bringing ECU to Chapel Hill

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UNC alum Jeff Lebo bringing ECU to Chapel Hill

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) Jeff Lebo is bringing his East Carolina program to the same court where he starred for North Carolina under Dean Smith and Roy Williams.

Lebo's Pirates (6-1) are making their first trip to Chapel Hill on Saturday to play the No. 21 Tar Heels, while Lebo is facing his alma mater for the second time in 15 seasons as a head coach.

``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 Thursday afternoon. ``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, in his third season leading the Pirates, played at UNC (7-2) from 1985-89 under Smith. Williams was an assistant to Smith during Lebo's first three seasons before taking over at Kansas.

Despite being about 100 miles apart, the instate programs have met only twice before due to Smith's policy of not scheduling instate opponents. The only meeting during Smith's 36-year tenure came in the first round of the 1993 NCAA tournament.

Williams, now in his 10th season as UNC's coach, said Lebo first called asking if the Tar Heels would play the Pirates in ECU's Minges Coliseum.

``My deal is, we'll play, but I'm not going to go play on your court because we can't do that for everybody (instate),'' Williams said. ``If you're opening up a building or something like that, we'll try to help you. ... But they decided they wanted to come here and play, and it was pretty easy, a 15-minute conversation.''

The game will also be the first meeting between Lebo and Williams, though they had tried at least twice before to set up a game.

Williams' move to UNC in 2003 nixed a deal for Kansas to play at Chattanooga while Lebo was coach there. Williams later agreed to bring UNC to play Lebo at Auburn as the school opened a new arena - a plan that fell through once Lebo was fired in 2010.

Lebo's first game against UNC was an 85-59 loss in Chapel Hill while he was at Tennessee Tech during the 1999-2000 season.

``You've got to remember now: Coach is going to do anything for a lot of the former players that he can,'' Lebo said. ``There's so many of us now that are coaching in the state that he can return every game. It's impossible for him to do that. He tries to play as many and helps as many people. He's been unbelievably gracious to me, in tough times, too.

``He's had a lot of former guys come back and play there. Not a lot of us have won back there. He doesn't treat you too good once the game starts.''

As a player, Lebo helped the Tar Heels go 116-25 with two Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season titles and one tournament championship. Lebo's teams reached at least the NCAA round of 16 every year and twice made a regional final.

Lebo also played in the Smith Center's first game - a Duke-UNC rivalry matchup - as a freshman in January 1986. He ranks 24th in career scoring (1,567 points), second in career 3-point shooting percentage (42.8) and fourth in career free-throw shooting percentage (83.9) in program history.

East Carolina point guard Miguel Paul said he hadn't seen any extra excitement from Lebo or change in his coach's demeanor leading up to this one. Paul also didn't sound intimidated by the prospect of playing in the tradition-rich Tar Heels on their home court.

``We're excited, man,'' Paul said. ``We know how good they are and they're just a great program and the basketball tradition is very high there. So we're just planning on going in there and giving a good show and this is a big opportunity to get our name on the board, too.''

Wolfpack overcomes 10-minute scoring drought to top Virginia

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Wolfpack overcomes 10-minute scoring drought to top Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- D.J. Funderburk scored 14 points before fouling out and North Carolina State overcame a second-half scoring drought of more than 10 minutes in a 53-51 victory against Virginia on Monday night.

C.J. Bryce added 13 points for the Wolfpack (14-5, 5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), including a jumper with 27 seconds left after allowing the shot clock to race to near 0:00. The victory ended an eight-game losing streak against the Cavaliers.

Viginia (12-6, 4-4) used a 15-0 run during the N.C. State scoring drought that lasted 10:13 to take a 46-42 lead, bringing the crowd at John Paul Jones Arena back into the game. But Jericole Hellems hit a 3-pointer for N.C. State with 3:38 left and, after a free throw by Mamadi Diakite for Virginia, Markell Johnson hit a 3-pointer and then Hellems' putback gave the Wolfpack a 50-47 lead.

Johnson and Bryce both missed the front end of one-and-one free throw opportunities, and Kihei Clark hit a pair for Virginia. Braxton Beverly made the first and missed the second for the Wolfpack with 7.2 seconds left, and the Cavaliers Casey Morsell was short on a contested 3 at the buzzer.

Clark led Virginia with 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

The Wolfpack had used an 8-0 run to go ahead 42-31. Virginia helped out by going scoreless for more than 6 1/2 minutes. Francisco Caffaro, who had just been inserted into the game, ended the drought with 11:13 left.

BIG PICTURE

N.C. State: The Wolfpack seemed on their way to a solid victory until the drought, during which they were 1 for 8 from the field with five turnovers and repeatedly let the shot clock run down into single digits, forcing bad shots.

Virginia: In the Cavaliers' continuing search for scoring help, freshman Casey Morsell had as many as three field goals for the first time since a 65-56 victory against Navy on Dec. 29. He was 4 for 20 from the field in his last five games. He finished the night 4 for 9 and his buzzer-beater attempt was closely guarded.

UP NEXT

The Wolfpack remains on the road and plays at Georgia Tech on Saturday.

The Cavaliers go on the road and play at Wake Forest on Sunday.

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Despite place in standings, Wizards believe playoffs aren't a pipe dream

Despite place in standings, Wizards believe playoffs aren't a pipe dream

WASHINGTON -- This may be the most realistic and self-aware Wizards team we have seen in a while. It wasn't long ago they had a penchant for talking big about what they believed they could accomplish. Nowadays, knowing where they are in the standings, their expectations are much more measured.

They know they are 12th in the Eastern Conference, even after beating the Pistons on Monday. They know their 14-28 record, which is 14 games under .500 and has them on pace to win 27 total games, isn't good.

But the Wizards are allowed to dream and they say making the playoffs is still something they would like to do.

"That's the goal, that's every day for us. [It's] in the back of my mind," shooting guard Bradley Beal said.

"I watch the games, I watch the standings and everything. We're not talking about it," head coach Scott Brooks said. "If that comes into play [we'll see]. The seventh and eighth seeds, the records aren't great."

There is certainly a case for that. The two teams currently occupying the bottom two playoff spots in the East have sub-.500 records. The seventh-ranked Magic are 20-23 and the Brooklyn Nets are in eighth with an 18-24 mark.

Last season, the Charlotte Hornets held up the Eastern Conference playoff bracket with a losing record as the eighth seed. They went 39-43, not good but still a much better pace than the Wizards are currently on. To win 39 games, they would have to go 25-16 the rest of the way.

Though they have shown some positive signs, going 4-4 in their last eight games, that would require going to a completely different level in the second half of the season. Still, there is no harm in maintaining their goals.

Beal, for one, has envisioned a way it can happen.

"Especially once All-Star hits, that second half is just flying. We have to tighten up and try to get some wins here before the break because that's usually the time when teams like to ease off the pedal a little bit. We have to take advantage of [that], that advantage of our schedule, take care of our bodies, and rally together," he said.

If the Wizards really, really wanted to go for the playoffs, they could try to add some pieces before the Feb. 6 trade deadline. But that should not be expected. In fact, this year's deadline for the Wizards likely won't be affected much at all by the playoff picture.

It's hard to envision them being buyers and they may not be able to be true sellers, either, due to injuries and other factors. Also, there is a belief in the front office that keeping a close distance in the playoff race could be a nice incentive for their young players, that having something to work for later in the season could help their development.

If the Wizards did somehow make the playoffs or even get close, that would be quite the surprise and it would say a lot about the direction of the organization. But in the long-term, it would seem to be more beneficial if they continue on their current course and end up with a top draft pick.

The Wizards right now have the fifth-worst record in the league. That would net them a lot of ping-pong balls for the draft lottery.

It seems likely that's where this season will end. But it doesn't hurt to try.

"We just want to play. We just want to finish the second half of the season playing better," Brooks said.

The Wizards are only 4 1/2 games back in the playoff race. Stranger things have happened.

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