That changed on Tuesday night when the Pirates (19-12) rallied from a fifteen-point second-half deficit to outlast Savannah State, 66-65, while the Broncs (19-14) captured a 63-54 win at Hartford.
ECU can clinch its second twenty-win season in school history—first in Division-I—when Rider comes into Minges Coliseum and tips off the second round of the CIT tournament at 5 pm Saturday. It will be the first meeting between the schools in basketball.
Rider is a member of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference from Lawrenceville, NJ, and has won eight of its last ten games. Second-team all-conference senior guard Jonathon Thompson averages a team-high 12.9 points per game on fifty percent shooting from the field.
Third-team all-MAAC selections Anthony Myles (12.4 PPG, 4.6 RPG) and Daniel Stewart (10.8 PPG, 7.4 RPG) each average double-figures scoring as well and are more than qualified to have success on Saturday.
"They're well coached, they're athletic, they're strong, and they got good guard play, especially at the point guard position (Thompson)," said ECU coach Jeff Lebo.
The Broncs possess the nation's No. 8 three-point defense, which could present problems for the Pirates. Savannah ranked No. 1 in that category and disrupted ECU's offense for the vast majority of the game, before the late rally.
Even though a lot of credit was given to the opposition's defense, the Pirates felt they should have gotten off to a far better start after trailing 14-6 against Tulsa in its Conference USA tournament quarterfinals-loss and 30-15 on Tuesday.
"We had a crazy slow start (against Savannah State)," said Maurice Kemp, "that was one of the worst first halves offensively that we've ever had."
ECU has won its last three games played at Minges Coliseum and at multiple times this year, the home crowd has been a huge factor in helping the Pirates win.
"We've relied on our crowd. I thought our crowd was outstanding here (Tuesday)," said Lebo. "I thought they were a factor going down the stretch."
The game will be broadcast on the Pirate IMG Sports Network with Jeff Charles and Si Seymour on the call.