Synia Johnson

Senior guard Synia Johnson locks down on the defensive end.

The East Carolina University women’s basketball team (7-11, 5-8 American Athletic Conference) is set to have a matchup with the University of Cincinnati Bearcats (4-15, 3-11 AAC) on Feb. 24 at 6 p.m. at Williams Arena in Grenville, North Carolina, and the game can be seen on ESPN+.

On Feb. 13, the Pirates traveled to Pennsylvania to play Temple University. Throughout the game, points were being traded back and forth with ECU’s Lashonda Monk having 10 points and Dominique Claytor with nine. The teams traded baskets all the way to the fourth quarter, where the game ended with a score of 57 ECU and 58 Temple University.

After the Pirates’ senior night victory over Wichita State on Feb. 20, head coach Kim McNeill said she urged her players at halftime to take a deep breath. In addition, McNeill said she was proud of the entire team effort in the win.

“Really good to look down at this stat sheet and see multiple people in double figures,” McNeill said. “That’s what I’ve been wanting all season long and it just shows that we played together.”

The Bearcats came into Greenville as the No. 9 team in the AAC ranks. This season, Cincinnati has averaged 60.5 points per game as a team, shooting 40% from the field but only 24.5% from the three point line. On the defensive side, Cincinnati scores 14.4 points per game off turnovers and they protect the paint as they block 4.3 shots per game. The Bearcats grab 34.6 rebounds per game and they have 268 total assists this season.

Senior forward Ilmar’I Thomas leads Cincinnati in points scored per game with 21.9 points on average and she also grabs 7.4 rebounds per game. Sophomore guard Caitlyn Wilson is second for Cincinnati in points as she averages 8.4 points per game, shoots 77.8% from the free throw line and she is the team leader in made threes this season with 32.

McNeill said she was happy with the way Monk was able to handle the defensive pressures in their latest victory over Wichita State.

“I challenged her at halftime to not allow them to take her out of the game,” McNeill said. “I thought she (Monk) really responded to that.”

The Pirates, who are No. 6 in the AAC, still look to build their confidence and rise in the ranks as they meet the Bearcats at home. As the 2020-2021 season begins to wind down, the Pirates have averaged 58.1 points per game, with 25.5% being from the field and 62.7% at the line. ECU’s defense has helped to score points as the team averages 16.06 points per game from turnovers alone while stealing the ball almost 11 times a game and averaging 34.1 rebounds per game.

Senior guard Lashonda Monk leads the Pirates in points scored, with a scoring average of 14.1 points per game which includes her average of five field goals, 2.5 free throws and 2.8 steals per game. Sophomore guard Taniyah Thompson is right behind Monk in scoring as she averages 11 points and 30.3 minutes played per game. Thompson also leads the team in 13.3 field goal attempts per game.

McNeill said although she was happy with the win over Wichita State, she has stressed to her team that the season is far from over and they still have a lot to accomplish.

“You know I told them this is a four game tournament starting with today because we’re playing for something,” McNeill said. “We’re playing for a first round bye in the tournament, so we took care of game one and we’ve got three more to go.”

This season, the Pirates have also ranked in the top five in five of the AAC’s major statistical categories. As a team this season, ECU currently ranks first in steals, second in turnover margin, third in offensive rebounds, fourth in offensive rebound percentage, and fifth in scoring defense, according to the American.

It is also important to note that even with COVID-19 protocols and regulations this season, the Pirates’ win percentage of .389 has been their best since the 2018-2019 season, where ECU finished with a .516 overall win percentage and a .375 conference win percentage for that season. 

This is the second time this season that the Bearcats and Pirates will face off. On Dec. 20, 2020, the Pirates traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, and were able to defeat the Bearcats at Fifth Third Arena with an end score of 74-67.

After the Pirates’ contest with Cincinnati, they will play their last home game of the season in a matchup with the University of Memphis Tigers (4-10, 2-7 AAC) on Feb. 27 in Greenville, North Carolina. The game is set to tip off at 1 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN+.

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