It was just one intense, triumphant minute in the second quarter of the East Carolina women’s team’s 59-47 win over Grand Canyon on Wednesday, but that sixty seconds gave the Pirates permanent possession of the momentum and reminded coach Chad Killinger of two factors that propelled ECU to 3-0 — experience and coachability.
After a hot start powered by Destiny Campbell’s eight points in the first four minutes, the Pirates’ outside shooting cooled off and the Antelopes began to chip away at a 16-5 ECU lead. By the end of the quarter the home team held a slight 20-18 edge, and the sluggishness continued into the second.
With 4:37 remaining, GCU’s Venla Varis made a layup to tie the game 24-24, a score that was ECU’s only non-lead of the game and marked the beginning of the Pirates’ magic minute.
Sparkplug guard Raven Johnson made a three-pointer almost immediately after GCU knotted it up, then she stole the ball and launched it to teammate Justice Gee for a fast break basket. Then the Antelopes missed a three-pointer, and on the next possession Gee and Johnson teamed up again, this time on a Gee rebound and pass to Johnson, who converted a layup for a 31-24 lead.
By halftime the Pirates were ahead 34-24, and in the second half the margin never fell below seven points.
“Defensively, I think our intensity picked up a little bit,” Killinger said. “We changed defenses. The way the game is played now, I don’t think you can just sit in one defense, because I feel like teams are able to get a rhythm against you. And I feel like we changed defenses and created some situations where we were able to get out in transition.”
Despite the tumult of ECU’s preseason, which saw former head coach Heather Macy resign after an internal investigation on October 17, the squad has found stability in the maturity of a lineup that features three seniors and six juniors and relies on different leaders in each game.
Five different players have scored in double digits in ECU’s first three outings, and three different players have led the team in rebounds. When adjustments are necessary, as they were on Wednesday, the team is characterized by flexibility and humility, Killinger said.
“Once we try to make some adjustments, they’re trying to do everything we ask them to do,” Killinger said. “It’s not easy to win games at this level, regardless of who you’re playing, so you have to be willing to make adjustments throughout, and maybe something you haven’t even planned on using, but for whatever reason you have to go to it.
“And our team is usually good about finding the person who has the hot hand and getting the ball to them. They’re really an unselfish group, which makes it pretty easy to coach them.”
Sophomore forward Tamia Hicks, who notched seven rebounds and nine points in the victory and helped diversify the offense when perimeter shooting stopped advancing the score early, said the individualized approach and intensity in practice has prepared the players for games like Wednesday’s, when they were unable to rely on just one set of strengths.
“I think, as a team, we just rallied together,” Hicks said. “We knew that we needed to get a gap in the game. Even in practices we are together, so in the games it’s even easier for us to be together. I think that momentum and that energy just carried from the group that was on to the subs that came in, which helped us get a bigger lead.”
Killinger praised his squad’s defensive efforts against the Antelopes, noting that after GCU shot 61.5 percent in the first quarter ECU held them to 30 percent, 21.4 percent and 44.4 percent in the other three.
On offense, one consistent factor through each of ECU’s games so far is the dynamic presence of Johnson, a junior from Lilburn, GA, who has scored 50 total points in the Pirates’ three victories and has emerged as a leader who can help move the needle when her team hits a lull.
“She’s just an energetic kid, never seems to get tired, and does a good job,” Killinger said. “We can put her on the other team’s best player and she does a great job. And if we need somebody to get to the basket, she can do that. She just has a little bit of an infectious personality, and I think people pick up on that.”
ECU will try to continue its undefeated campaign on Sunday at home, with a 5 p.m. game against Kennesaw State.
Men don’t follow this game. They play Monday!
Danny Whitford says
MatC: Thank you for the heads up. Correction has been made. — Danny Whitford, Editor
Dan A. says
As a long time Pirate fan and loyal Bonesville reader (I can’t remember the last day I didn’t visit your site) I was wondering if you could write an article or have it written about QB development at ECU. I recently commented about that on this forum but think it deserves a better more intense look from one of your writers. I think it’s crucial information as we talk about the Pirates future and the future of our coach. It’s stunning to think that two of Ruff’s recruits have gone on to such significant success in what most people would think were more difficult situations. I do believe that Ahlers is a special QB and believe it’s paramount that we put him in the best situation to thrive. Wins and losses are important factors but player development also speaks loudly to coaches ability. For me we’ve had some great examples of getting the most out of what we had in the past. Steve Logan and Skip Holtz were great at sustainable development of players. I’m not sure our current regime share that ability and with three year look we probably have seen who they are. Anyways if you believe it’s interesting and important info that our QB from last year is literally lighting it up in the northwest and another former Pirate was considered one of the best QB’s in the ACC for two years Bonesville.net should dive into the why’s and how’s of that situation.
I believe we have the roster for a significant turnaround but need to have the right person guiding the ship. Maybe it’s Scottie but maybe it’s not.
Thanks for providing such great info on the Pirates for so many years. Bonesville.net is a part of my day every day of my life.