Pirates Clip Owls at Minges

GREENVILLE, N.C. -- ECU (15-13, 4-9 C-USA) held off the Rice Owls (7-19, 2-11 C-USA)with a 67-55 victory at Minges Coliseum Saturday.

East Carolina was in unfamiliar territory during the first half of Saturday's game against the Rice Owls. Accustomed to battling from behind, the Pirates were instead leading Conference USA's last-place team 29-4 with eight minutes left until halftime.

The team's newly-explored cushion didn't last long, though. The Owls engineered a 20-3 run and eventually trimmed ECU's advantage to just two points – 46-44 – before the Pirates could recover.

With his team's large lead all but evaporated, senior shooting guard Akeem Richmond began a back-breaking 9-0 spurt with one of his five 3's. ECU held on to win 67-55 in front of a golden-clad crowd at Minges Coliseum.

Richmond finished with a game-high 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting and along the way, became ECU's all-time leader for 3-pointers (230). He broke Lester Lyons' mark of 229 3's in just 63 games.

"Someone actually informed me about it earlier in the weekend. I can't even lie, I was thinking about it. I told myself this morning I was going to break it when they told me I only needed five. So I was really focused when I went out there tonight," said Richmond.

The Pirates (15-13, 4-9 C-USA) have now won back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 19 as they enter the last three games of the regular season. Michael Zangari had another impressive outing -- scoring 17 points, which ties his career-high, and grabbing seven boards.

In the last three games, Zangari has exuded effort on the glass with 33 rebounds combined and attributes his recent success to a slight change in mentality.

"(Assistant) coach (Ken) Potosnak told me to go get the ball and that's my mentality now. Instead of being more worried about boxing out, it's just ‘go get the damn ball.' So that's what I've been doing," Zangari said.

The Pirates were in the driver's seat from the moment the game's opening tip – racing to a 9-3 advantage – and didn't let up. A pair of Richmond 3's fueled what quickly turned into a 20-1 run over the span of seven minutes. Richmond had 17 points in the first half.

Desperate for a spark, Rice (7-19, 2-11 C-USA) coach Ben Braun went with a hockey-style line change and put a less-experienced unit on the floor. And while they faced such a daunting deficit, the Owls began to cut at ECU's lead.

"I don't believe in yelling at our guys and screaming at them. I think it's about telling guys what they need to do better," said Braun, telling them to, "we just have to do a better job of being patient and being more confident. And I thought our guys were both."

Trailing 40-19 in the waning moments of the first half, Rice began a 15-0 run that would put it back within striking distance – 40-34 – with 15:06 left to go. C-USA's second-leading three-point shooter (behind Richmond), Austin Ramljak led the Owls by drilling four 3's for 13 points.

Once Rice got within a bucket of tying the game, junior Paris Roberts-Campbell stepped in and sealed the deal. After an and-one 3-point play, Roberts-Campbell drilled his first 3-point jumper of the night to push ECU's lead back to 54-44.

However, he was injured late in the game with a hamstring injury, according to ECU coach Jeff Lebo. Roberts-Campbell will be further evaluated Sunday.

ECU returns to action next Thursday against the Charlotte 49ers. It will be a senior night at Minges Coliseum and tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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