HARTFORD, CT — East Carolina overcame a 24-point deficit to tie the score at 77 with 57 seconds left on a 3-pointer by Elijah Hughes in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament before Southern Methodist managed to pull out an 81-77 win at the XL Center on Friday.
“We didn’t win on the scoreboard, but we certainly did win in the hearts of ECU supporters and also our competitors,” said interim Pirates coach Michael Perry. “We won in a lot of different ways. We moved the program forward and our culture changed.
“It’s been changing, and it certainly changed tonight. We put ourself in position where we can play with and beat the elite teams in this league. These guys made a statement. They’ve changed the culture of our program.”
Kentrell Barkley played all 40 minutes and had 24 points to lead the ninth-seeded Pirates (15-18). Barkley also had five assists.
Caleb White scored 17 points for ECU and Hughes added 15.
Top-seeded SMU (28-4) was led by Semi Ojeleye with 36 points. Sterling Milton had 16 points for the Mustangs.
Ojeleye had a follow shot with 29 seconds left that put SMU ahead to stay at 79-77.
Barkley couldn’t find the handle on a feed on a backdoor cut on ECU’s ensuing possession and the Mustangs were able to seal the outcome on two free throws by Ojeleye with 13 seconds to go.
The Pirates hit nine of 30 field goal attempts in the first half (30 percent) and trailed 43-21 at the break. The biggest lead for SMU was 43-19.
ECU hit 17 of 33 shots in the second half, 57.1 percent. The Pirates made 11 of 19 from long range in the final 20 minutes, 57.9 percent.
SMU made 28 of 46 from the field for the game, 60.9 percent.
Andre Washington had four points and 10 rebounds in 26 minutes before fouling out. The Pirates had a 32-31 lead on the boards.
Jeremy Sheppard finished with eight points for ECU. Deng Riak scored five points. Michel Nzege had four points.
The Pirates lost two previous meetings with the Mustangs by a total of 71 points this season but ECU was able to battle back on Friday.
“That game was just like, you got to put it all out there, win or lose,” Barkley said. “You got to give your all, and just play hard, play basketball, and don’t go out without a lot of heart.”.
SMU plays Central Florida in the semifinals at 3 p.m. today. The fourth-seeded Knights (21-10) took an 84-54 win over fifth-seeded Memphis on Friday.