Both of the East Carolina basketball teams faced the teams at the top of the conference standings on Wednesday night.
The men’s game was never close, ending with a 44-point drubbing at the hands of Houston. The women’s game against Central Florida, played before a small but spirited Minges Coliseum crowd, was tied 56-56 at the end of regulation.
The Pirates ultimately fell to the Knights 61-58 in overtime, but it was a contest that showed their mettle and gave them confidence that they can come back against anyone on their schedule, said sophomore guard Lashonda Monk. Monk was the packhorse of the night, carrying the team through UCF runs and sparking her team with 27 points, including 10-of-12 from the free-throw line.
“I just had to step up and help my teammates out,” Monk said. “We had to get something going. When they had a run, I already knew that our run was coming. So, we didn’t give up. I think it shows us how hard we fight. We got down, but we pushed through it, so it shows that we can come back against another good team.”
“I always tell the girls, we may be down but we’re never out,” said acting head coach Nicole Mealing. “No matter what the score is, we’re going to keep competing, and we’re going to find a way to get back in the game, and that’s what they did tonight. I’m so proud of them for that.”
Despite a deficit that stretched to 14 in the third period and a shooting percentage of just 27.5 percent, the game always felt like it was in play for the Pirates. Any time the Knights started to run away with it, Monk would steal the ball and score on a fast break layup, or draw a foul and hit both free throws.
It was a physical game, with both teams attempting to stifle every opposing basket with aggressive defense.
ECU’s late-game defense was one of the most encouraging components of the outing for acting head coach Nicole Mealing, she said, and rebounding efforts from players like Desiree Corbin and Salita Greene fueled the Pirates through offensive droughts.
“She did a really good job for us rebounding the ball, and a lot of times she would box out and one of our guards would come get the ball,” Mealing said of Corbin. “I thought we picked up the intensity a bit in the third and fourth quarter and it helped get us into overtime.”
The most dramatic moment of the night, a memorable payoff for the small but spirited Minges crowd, came with ten seconds left in the fourth period when the Pirates, trailing by three came out of a timeout and executed a play that hit pay dirt, despite the fact that it didn’t unfold quite like Mealing drew it up.
Justice Gee inbounded the ball to Ariyana Williams, who passed it to Monk, who fired a long pass back to Gee on the left baseline. Gee launched a three-pointer, tying the game and robbing UCF of the lead for the first time since two-thirds of the way through the first period.
Gee’s basket sent the Pirates into their first overtime game of the season, but unfortunately the offensive fireworks that got them there fizzled in the extra time. ECU only converted two points in the five minutes — two free throws from Monk.
UCF was only a little more efficient, scoring five points in overtime, and with one second remaining the Pirates had an opportunity to tie it up again when Ariyana Williams attempted a three-pointer. The shot just missed, along with ECU’s opportunity to hand the Knights their first American loss.
Wednesday’s game marked Chad Killinger’s first game back in Minges since he stepped down as the interim head coach on December 27 due to health concerns. Killinger returned to active coaching, serving as an assistant to Mealing, last week, and Mealing said his presence and the continued support of the entire staff has helped lend stability to the team.
“I think the staff has done a really good job at just sticking together while he was out getting his health back right,” Mealing said. “I’m just glad to have him back on the staff, and healthy.”
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