After rallying all the way back from a 17-point deficit to take the lead, the East Carolina University men’s basketball team fell short of completing its miracle comeback in front of 4,248 fans in Minges Coliseum.
ECU (9-16, 2-11 AAC) for the third straight game was on the losing end of a nail-biting finish, going to overtime for the second time in the past three games against the University of Tulsa (16-10, 6-7 AAC). Fans and spectators looking at the game in the first half would not have expected the Pirates to battle back into the game.
Junior forward Seth LeDay got things started for ECU by scoring the first bucket of the game off a nice feed from senior guard Isaac Fleming within the first minute of the game. That layup would be the only basket for the Pirates for the next 7:50 until freshman forward Jayden Gardner knocked down a mid-range jump shot to give ECU its second field goal of the game. The Pirates were 2-for-13 from the field at that point, and trailed 17-5 early.
Sophomore guard Shawn Williams who had been struggling with shooting the basketball, especially from the three-point line, went on a scoring tear with 7:17 left in the game. He missed his first four three-point shot attempts of the game and it appeared that he would struggle for ECU once again, but did the exact opposite. Williams knocked down four straight triples that pulled the Pirates within 10 points after they went down by as much as 17 points, 14-31. Despite Williams’ outburst, the team still trailed by 11 at the half, 37-26.
“I feel like I am always confident,” Williams said. “You’re not going to know if you make it until you shoot it. I knew eventually that my shots would go in but it didn’t matter since we didn’t get the win.”
The Golden Hurricanes had a three-point play to start the second half that would put the team up 14 points over ECU. The Pirates would go on a 14-0 run after that to tie the game at 40-40 five minutes in to the second half. Williams knocked down another two threes, Fleming knocked down two mid-range jump shots and Gardner had a fastbreak layup to fuel the strong run.
Both teams would go back-and-forth for three minutes to where the score was tied at 47-47. ECU jumped out to a 56-50 lead 11 minutes into the second half. Tulsa tied the game at 60-60 with 3:43 left. ECU fans got loud and ecstatic as the Pirates battled all the way back from the early 17 point deficit the Golden Hurricanes had in the game.
ECU had a 67-66 lead with 54 seconds left in the game thanks to Williams knocking down his eighth three-pointer of the game. A late foul by freshman guard Tyler Foster gave Tulsa the opportunity to take the lead at the free throw line. The Hurricanes went 1-for-2 at the line to go to overtime with the Pirates.
ECU won the jump ball to begin overtime and Gardner knocked down another jump shot to put the Pirates up 69-67 to start play in the extra period. Miscommunication among ECU caused Tulsa to get a wide-open three that would put it up 70-69. The Pirates would get the lead right back at 71-70 after Gardner found LeDay for a powerful wide open two-handed slam dunk off of a nice backdoor play.
The Golden Hurricanes took the lead with 2:24 left in overtime off of a two-point jumper, but Williams would knock down two huge free throws with 1:11 left to lead 73-72. Tulsa scored another layup to regain the lead at 74-73 with 58 seconds left in the game. Sophomore guard KJ Davis had a huge opportunity to give ECU the two-point lead off a wide open three-point basket that just missed. The Golden Hurricanes knocked down a huge three-point basket with 13 seconds remaining to preserve the 77-73 victory to keep the Pirates from completing their miracle comeback.
“This is hurting right now,” Gardner said. “We have to keep trusting the process. This team is showing progression, we keep getting better but we just have not found the answer yet.”
Williams led the way for ECU with 26 points on 8-for-14 shooting from the three-point line going 8-for-10 from downtown after the 0-for-4 start. Gardner had a dominant game for the Pirates by recording another double-double with 19 points and 16 rebounds. Fleming was the only other ECU player to score in double figures by finishing with 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
“I give credit to our guys for battling back,” head coach Joe Dooley said. “We got off to a bad start in the first half. For us to get back up six and have a couple opportunities to win the game, I think this is part of the process of trying to learn how to win. I think the first step is staying in the game which we are doing a better job of doing but we have to learn that once we get people down that we have to finish.”
ECU will hit the road seeking its first win against a struggling Tulane University team that is 0-12 in American Athletic Conference play on Saturday, with tip-off scheduled for 8 p.m.