ORLANDO — After trailing by 19 points in the first half, East Carolina closed within 62-59 on Wednesday night before taking a 71-64 American Athletic Conference loss at Central Florida.
Jayden Gardner had 23 points and 10 rebounds for ECU for game highs in both categories.
Pirates coach Joe Dooley was out for the second straight game due to COVID protocols.
“We got down … because we were not very good in transition defense,” said acting coach Steve Roccaforte on the Pirate radio network. “We were giving up second-chance points so we weren’t boxing out and rebounding.
“We really didn’t get a lot of good shots. We were shooting it on one pass. …
“We tried to make some adjustments at halftime. I think our guys did a really good job of coming out and defending, especially in the halfcourt. They tightened up the transition defense and they got us back in the game.”
Gardner had 13 points and eight rebounds in the second half.
“Once he got going, we wanted to play through him,” Roccaforte said.
ECU (7-5, 1-5 AAC) held a 39-29 scoring advantage over the final 20 minutes.
The Pirates got 18 points from Tremont Robinson-White. Scoring six points each were Brandon Suggs, Bitumba Baruti and J.J. Miles. Tristen Newton added five points and led ECU in assists with four.
Guard Darin Green Jr. paced UCF (4-6, 2-5) with 18 points.
The Pirates host Tulsa (8-6, 5-4) on Saturday at noon.