After an impressive start to the 2020-2021 season by the East Carolina University men’s basketball team (8-8, 2-8 American Athletic Conference), interconference opponents and COVID-19 have brought the Pirates back down to Earth.
ECU currently sits at the bottom of the AAC rankings with the worst interconferece record in the conference at 2-8. Temple University (4-8, 3-4 AAC) sits directly above ECU in the AAC standings with the second worst record.
The Pirates shot off to a 5-0 start to the new season amidst several cancelled games in November 2020. This start featured several impressive wins, with a 91-62 victory over the University of North Carolina Wesleyan (9-4, 6-1 USA South Atlantic) on Dec. 1, 2020. Junior forward Jayden Gardner dropped a season-high 27 points in that contest.
ECU pulled out an overtime victory against the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (7-8, 1-5 Colonial Athletic Association) on Dec. 7, 2020 with a final score of 88-78. Senior guard J.J. Miles led the Pirates in scoring that game with 22 points. Gardner added a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds as well.
The first loss of the season came against the Pirates’ first conference opponent, Southern Methodist University (11-4, 7-4 AAC), on Dec. 16, 2020. ECU lost that game 70-55 with Gardner leading the Pirates’ scoring with just 13 points.
To end the year of 2020, the Pirates faced a postponement due to COVID-19 exposure concerns among the Wichita State University team (12-4, 8-2 AAC) on Dec. 30, 2020. However, the Pirates ended the year with an impressive 7-1 record.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, the 2021 year has not been kind to them. The team has gone in the complete opposite direction since the start of January. ECU lost five games in a row during conference play, with several double digit losses among the matches.
The University of Memphis (12-6, 8-3 AAC) came to Greenville on Jan. 24 and beat the Pirates 80-53. Gardner was held to 10 points with 11 rebounds for a double-double, while junior guard Tremont Robinson-White led the Pirates with 15 points.
A bright spot of the Pirates’ season was the impressive home win over the No. 5 University of Houston (17-2, 11-2 AAC) on Feb. 3. ECU won that game 82-73, led by Gardner’s 21-point, 15-rebound double-double. Houston has since moved down to be ranked No. 8 in the nation.
"That's the best win ever,” Gardner said after the win over Houston. “Just letting that sink in that, we just beat a top-5 team in the country. That's very surreal, that's stuff you dream about, beating anybody ranked, really.”
The celebration was short-lived as the Pirates followed up the big win with a 66-59 loss to Memphis on Feb. 6 and a 71-56 loss to SMU on Feb. 8.
The problem with the Pirates is hard to identify, however, the impact of Jayden Gardner has slightly diminished compared to last year during a crucial junior season. Last season, Gardner averaged 19.7 points per game along with 9.7 rebounds. In comparison, he currently averages 18.1 points per game with 8.6 rebounds.
Gardner continues to be the leading scorer of the Pirates as well as a constant double-double threat due to his rebounding ability, however there needs to be a significant jump for his impact to affect the Pirates’ record.
Currently, the Pirates’ basketball activities have been paused due to COVID-19 concerns as of Feb. 10. Three games have been postponed as a result: two games against Temple and a rematch against Houston.
ECU plans to play its next game against Wichita State University (12-4, 8-2 AAC).