East Carolina matched its lowest offensive output of the season, but its sound defense–especially in the second half–allowed it to secure a much-needed 58-50 win at North Carolina Central on Monday night. The Pirates (8-6), who were playing their final non-conference game of the year, found a way to gut out a see saw affair that featured 12 ties and eight lead changes.
ECU’s largest lead of the opening half was five when freshman Rob Sampson sunk a three to make it 14-9 with 12:59 to play. Following a pair of free throws by Brock Young, NCCU’s Landon Clement knocked down two trifectas in a span of 25 seconds to lift the Eagles to their first lead at 28-25 with 1:59 remaining.
NCCU (5-7) carried a 30-26 advantage into the locker room. It added to that margin in the opening minutes of the second half when back-to-back baskets by Clement and Chasten made it 34-26–the Eagles’ largest lead of the contest. Jontae Sherrod, who scored a team-high 17 points, capped a 12-4 run to knot the score at 38 when he knocked down a three from the corner with just under 11 minutes to go.
Trailing 46-45 with just over five and a half minutes remaining, Darrius Morrow spun to the baseline and delivered a highlight reel two-hand jam to propel the Pirates to a 47-46 lead. After the Eagles evened things on a free throw, Corvonn Gaines converted a rare three-pointer to put ECU ahead to stay at 50-47 with 4:46 left.
East Carolina continued to clamp down on the defensive end and pull away down the stretch. The Pirates pushed their lead to a game-high nine at 57-48 with just over a minute to play, as they completed a 31-14 run that spanned nearly 17 minutes.
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As expected, the Eagles attempted to ride their strong guard tandem of C.J. Wilkerson and Landon Clement. While the duo did combine for 35 points, they just shot 10-29 from the floor as the Pirates did a good job of limiting their open looks–especially after the break. Wilkerson had a game-high 19 points. Nick Chasten was a basket away from a double-double, as he finished with eight points and 12 rebounds.
As a team, East Carolina played exceptionally well on the defensive end in the second half. The Pirates held NCCU to 22.2 percent (6-27) after halftime and 0-for-10 from beyond the arc. In addition to Sherrod, Jamar Abrams also scored in double figures for ECU. The senior swingman had 16 points and seven boards.
The Pirates not only played excellent defense, but they hit free throws. They converted 20-of-28 attempts (71.4%) and made three more than NCCU attempted. East Carolina will begin Conference USA play on Saturday when it travels to No. 21 Memphis. Stay tuned to cusa-fans.com for a preview of that match-up.