In order to end its losing streak, the East Carolina University (11-17, 5-10 AAC) men’s basketball team needed to defend home court on Sunday against Temple University (14-13, 6-8 AAC). With a big contribution from sophomore forward Jayden Gardner, the Pirates were able to win with a final score of 67-63.
Earlier this season, these two teams met and the Owls were able to take the win, despite ECU holding a halftime lead. This time, however, the Pirates were able to gain a lead at halftime and come out with the victory.
“They shouldn’t be satisfied. We still got some basketball to play this year,” head coach Joe Dooley said. “Finish the regular season the right way with a lot of effort and enthusiasm, and there’s no telling what could happen.”
ECU dominated the majority of the first half, leading by as much as 10 points early. They got off to a great start behind Gardner’s scoring ability. He put up 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the first half alone, leading both sides in scoring and rebounds. The only other player to score in double figures in the first half was senior guard Quinten Rose, who had 11 points at the break.
Despite Gardner’s efforts, Temple was able to make a run late in the half to close the gap to just a single point. Senior guard Alani Moore hit a three-point bucket at the halftime buzzer for Temple, but ECU went into the locker room leading 37-36.
Unlike the first half, the second half was much closer. Both teams fought for every loose ball, rebound, and point they could get. Which resulted in eight lead changes.
Despite the Pirates not being able to flex their muscles as much as they did in the first half, Gardner, to no surprise, did not. Halfway through the second half Gardner took over the game with 9 straight points for the Pirates.
“Just knowing I’ve got to step up. I’m a leader on this team and I’ve got to be a leader on the court,” Gardner said. “Just being there for my teammates. My teammates tell me the whole game that this is your game, keep going, so that’s what I did and just had a dog-like mentality.”
With 3:51 seconds remaining on the clock, Temple’s junior forward J.P. Moorman II leaped to the rim to grab a rebound and drew a foul right underneath the basket. Players from both sides started jawing and shoving, subsequently the Pirates junior guard J.J. Miles and sophomore guard Tremont Robinson-White both received flagrant one fouls.
The Owls received six free-throw attempts, which left ECU fans and coaches in an uproar. Luckily for the Pirates they only made three.
“We got lucky they missed some free throws, let's cut to the chase. We did get lucky they missed some free throws,” Dooley said. “In a weird way it sort of fired our fans and our guys up. I mean it was sort of a wait and see type of deal, then we sort of got a little momentum and got a little energy. I thought that was a real start even though that could have been a dire deal for us.”
Fired them up, it did. Because of key buckets and multiple blocks and steals the Pirates shut out the Owls for the remainder of the time.
With a minute left, ECU was leading 64-63. After freshman guard Tristen Newton secured back-to-back steals and hit two free throws, the game was sealed. Redshirt junior guard Monty Scott missed a three-pointer for Temple to tie with four seconds left and Miles went 1-of-2 from the free throw line to officially give ECU the victory 67-63.
Gardner tied his season-high in points with 29. He also added 13 rebounds to his statline to give him the double-double. Miles finished with 11 points, including a pair of three-point buckets. Newton scored 10 points by going 8-of-9 from the free throw line. He was 1-of-8 from the field.
ECU will travel to Tampa, Florida to face the University of South Florida (11-15, 4-9 AAC) on Wednesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.