GREENVILLE — East Carolina has 11 new players on its basketball roster but sophomore returner Jayden Gardner led a season-opening 80-68 win over VMI on Thursday night at Williams Arena in Minges Coliseum with 28 points and 11 rebounds.
Freshman Tristen Newton scored 20 points for the Pirates and classmate Brandon Suggs added 12 points.
ECU trailed 38-36 at the half and a 3-pointer by Kamdyn Curfman with 16:20 remaining gave the Keydets their last lead at 45-44.
A layup by Gardner with 14:19 left put the Pirates ahead to stay at 46-45.
ECU coach Joe Dooley went with a smaller lineup in the second half to outscore the visitors, 44-30, over the final 20 minutes. There were 10 lead changes in the first half.
The Pirates made 31 of 58 from the field for 53.4 percent, including four of 12 beyond the arc for 33.3 percent. ECU dropped 14 of 24 free throws for 58.3 percent.
The Pirates outrebounded the Keydets, 44-33, and ECU had a 48-32 lead in points in the paint.
“We had some careless turnovers and some inexperienced mistakes that we need to clean up very quickly,” Dooley said.
The Pirates had more turnovers than the visitors, 13-10.
ECU visits Navy for an 8:30 p.m. tipoff on Friday. The Midshipmen lost their first game, 68-55, in overtime at George Mason on Tuesday night.