I don’t know what was said in the huddle with the East Carolina-Southern Methodist game tied at 68, but I do know that Tristen Newton came back on the court with a big smile on his face.
Newton parlayed that smile into a game-winning three point shot to give the Pirates a 71-68 upset win over an SMU team that came to Greenville with a 12-2 record on the season.
The Pirates got off to a great start and an early 11-3 lead in the game. But SMU survived that early flurry and led by eleven at the half.
In the second half the Pirates hung around long enough to have a chance. Joe Dooley’s club took advantage of that chance and pulled off the upset.
Dooley diagrammed the winning play, and his Pirates executed it to perfection.
“Jayden set a good screen and Tremont got going downhill,” Dooley said. “If they didn’t help on the drive then he could have had a lay-up. Once he got around the corner, they helped and he threw the ball to Tristen. Obviously Tristen made a huge shot.”
Tristen took the pass and set his sights on the game-winning three.
“We were running the play for Tremont to get downhill and he got downhill,” said Newton. “Three people went in on him, so he just threw it to me. It was a wide-open shot.”
It was a wide-open shot that was dead-on into the hoop for the game-winner with just 2.7 seconds left on the clock.
East Carolina has now won two in a row in the American Athletic Conference. They’ll go for three in a row on Wednesday night hosting Tulsa.
Dooley knows his team has a long way to go. Still, he couldn’t help but pause a little on Saturday to reflect on just how big this win was for his program.
“Our guys responded at halftime and we rallied,” Dooley said. “We just chipped away and chipped away and obviously we had some guys make some big plays, culminating with Tristen’s shot. There also were a number of them before that (shot) that got us in that spot.”
This is a much different team than the one we saw back in November.
Tremont Robinson-White and Tyrie Jackson were injured early in the year. Their return has certainly made a difference.
This is a team of players that are still learning to play together.
“We’re scratching and clawing and making baby steps,” said Dooley. “We want to get to the point where we can compete night in and night out, and I think the guys are trying to do that and we still have a ways to go, but we’re gaining on it a little bit at least.”
Win or lose, Joe Dooley has a team that is playing hard. It’s a team that seems to like one another.
Jayden Gardner is the star of the squad. Gardner knows that he needs help in order to turn this program around. Gardner likes what he sees of late.
“Like I touched on last game, this team hasn’t reached its ceiling yet,” said Gardner. “We’re going to keep getting better and better.”
Attendance at Williams Arena has certainly picked up. A crowd of 4,014 saw the upset win over SMU.
As far as some other numbers go, ECU won its sixth consecutive home game and improved to 7-2 inside Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum this season. The Pirates also snapped a 10-game losing streak to SMU, posting their first win over the Mustangs since Feb. 23, 2013, at Moody Coliseum in Dallas.
ECU has a winning record through three conference games for the first time as a member of the American Athletic Conference and the first time since opening the 2012-13 Conference USA campaign 2-1.
Joe Dooley is making big progress with this program. His players deserve the support of the Pirate Nation.
Here’s hoping for an even bigger crowd on Wednesday night when Tulsa comes a calling.