GREENVILLE — Freshman Tristen Newton hit a 3-pointer from in front of the East Carolina bench with 2.7 seconds left to give the Pirates a 71-68 American Athletic Conference win over Southern Methodist on Saturday in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.
ECU had lost 10 in a row to the Mustangs, including an 82-54 defeat in Dallas last season.
After a 2-7 start, the Pirates improved to 8-8 overall and 2-1 in the AAC as sophomore Jayden Gardner had 20 points and nine rebounds.
Tyrie Jackson, Tremont Robinson-White and Newton each made three shots from beyond the arc and finished with 11 points apiece.
ECU emerged from a see-saw contest that saw the Pirates grab an early 11-3 lead. SMU was on top by 13 points just after halftime.
“Our guys did a great job of battling back,” said ECU coach Joe Dooley.
Two free throws by Tyson Jolly of the Mustangs tied the score at 68 with 12 seconds to go.
Robinson-White drove to the basket off a screen by Gardner and kicked out to an open Newton as three SMU defenders converged on the ball.
A crowd of 4,014 erupted as Newton calmly connected.
The Pirates outshot and outrebounded SMU. Jackson snared five caroms as ECU led 31-29 on the boards.
Facing a 38-27 deficit at the half, the Pirates responded by making 16 of 32 shots from the floor in the second half, 50 percent. ECU hit seven of 17 threes after intermission, 41.2 percent.
The Pirates finished 24 of 56 on field goal attempts for the game (42.9 percent), compared to 20 of 52 for the visitors, 38.5 percent.
The Mustangs had an edge on free throws , making 20 of 24 opportunities while ECU sank 12 of 16.
Isaiha Mike had 21 points for SMU (12-3, 2-1), which will get a return game from the Pirates on Jan. 22.
ECU had fewer turnovers, 9-8.
“We’ve been harping on that,” Dooley said. “The guys were pretty conscientious about not turning it over. We tell them if you don’t turn it over you can shoot it and you don’t have to guard, so it makes it a lot easier on everybody.”
After some initial struggles, the Pirates have brought 11 new players together and overcome some injuries.
“Having some success helps confidence,” Dooley said. “We were getting kicked around a little bit and I think they decided we needed to get better quickly.”
The Pirates host Tulsa (10-6, 2-1) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Golden Hurricane topped visiting Houston, 63-61, on Saturday.