This may come off as a shock given the fact the Pirates (18-12) are having one of their best seasons in school history and the bid they accepted wasn't to the NCAA tournament or even the National Invitational Tournament (NIT), but rather the Collegeinsider.com tourney (CIT).
"A lot of teams are playing (in the CIT) but aren't excited to be playing," said ECU coach Jeff Lebo. "You got to want to play right now, and this team wants to play."
A win against the Savannah State Tigers (19-14) of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) would be the program's first in a postseason tournament since joining Division I.
The Tigers enter Tuesday night's action after a 64-61 overtime loss to Morgan State in the quarterfinals of last weekend's MEAC tournament. Similar to the Pirates' fate in Tulsa, they lost their grip of the lead down the stretch—leading 53-49 with under two minutes left in regulation—and could never get it back.
Horace Broadnax is in his eight season as SSU's coach. During his tenure, he has guided the Tigers to its first winning season in twenty years and received an automatic bid to the NIT with a 14-2 conference record in 2012.
Broadnax's club doesn't consist of any underclassmen and leans on its defense to win games. SSU owns the MEAC's No. 1 scoring defense—only surrendering an average of 56.2 points per game—and ranks fifteenth nationally in steals (averaging 9.0 per game).
Though its defense has been stout, the Tiger's have struggled to score the basketball with the conference's worst scoring offense. Rashad Hassan, a 6-foot-7 senior is the team's leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 12.8 points and 5.8 boards. Senior point guard Preston Blackman is an impact player in the backcourt, averaging 11.9 points to go along with 3.5 assists.
The Pirates counter with Conference USA's No. 1 scoring offense as they try to put their heartbreaking conference tournament loss to Tulsa behind them.
Maurice Kemp, a 6-foot-8 senior, set the pace with a game-high 24 points and 11 rebounds, but admits relinquishing that lead was a bitter pill to swallow.
"It was a terrible feeling. We really expected to play a lot better than that," said Kemp. "We had high expectations for our team in the (conference) tournament and to come up short like that was tough."
ECU will appear in the CIT tournament for the second time in the past three years. The Pirates fell at home to Jacksonville in overtime, 71-67, in 2011.
Tip-off is set for 7 pm from Minges Coliseum.