Miners Knockout Pirates

EL PASO, T.X. – Fifth-seeded UTEP (23-9) dominated 12 seed ECU (17-16) inside in its 77-68 second-round victory in the Don Haskins Center Wednesday.

East Carolina went into Wednesday night's second-round matchup against fifth-seeded Texas-El Paso knowing it was outsized inside. At this point, it is something the 12th-seeded Pirates have grown accustomed to and found ways to overcome.

But not even this group of resilient Pirates could bypass its shortfalls this time around as the Conference USA Tournament's hosting team won 77-68 at the Don Haskins Center.

UTEP (23-9) muscled out 40 points in the paint and grabbed 37 rebounds and ECU (17-16) had no answers for the senior forward John Bohannon, who turned in a double-double with 15 points – on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting – and a game-high 11 rebounds.

"The size differential was a factor," said ECU coach Jeff Lebo. "I thought their execution and their ability to get the ball up and over our zone, because of their size, was a huge factor in this game. Their ability to get the ball around the rim and get some easy baskets was the difference."

The Miners never trailed Wednesday and took command early – 24-6 – with a 19-1 run that featured a pair of alley-oop slams to energize the home crowd. A night after his record-breaking shooting display, Richmond was limited to just three shots for three points in the first half.

Although Richmond finished with 14 points, nine of them were scored in the game's final three minutes when the game was already out of reach. Junior Julian Washburn locked down C-USA's top three-point shooter for most of the game, while pouring in a game-high 20 points.

So what was the key to containing Richmond?

"Don't let him catch the ball," said Washburn. "If he gets a little space, he's going to shoot it. He's probably the best shooter I've faced in my whole life."

ECU coach Jeff Lebo added, "(Washburn's) one of the best defensive guys around, I think."

"He can move with Akeem with his quickness, close him down and not have to get right up to him and still bother his shot. We knew (Richmond) wasn't going to get the looks that he got in the last game and he didn't."

Trailing by their largest deficit of the game – 51-28 – the cardiac Pirates recaptured some of their magic from Tuesday's come-from-behind win by building a 12-2 run. During the spurt, Paris Roberts-Campbell drained a three-point jumper coupled with a four-point play to put the game back within reach.

"We started out slow yesterday too, so we knew it was possible to come back," said Roberts-Campbell. "We just wanted to keep fighting."

Roberts-Campbell totaled 14 points – 12 of which were in the second half – but the game slipped from the Pirates when he fouled out with 9:32 remaining. After his disqualification, UTEP padded its lead with a 10-4 run to put ECU away.

The Miners will face four seed Southern Miss in Thursday's quarterfinals, while the Pirates' future has yet to be determined. If ECU accepts an invitation to defend its CIT Championship crown, it will likely host a first-round game at Minges Coliseum next week. A decision is expected to be made by next Monday.

One thing that is certain is ECU's time in Conference USA is finished as the school will officially join the American Athletic Conference on July 1 and in turn become a part of one of the nation's power conferences.

"It will be a gigantic step for us in basketball," said Lebo. "(C-USA) has been a terrific league, and a terrific basketball league and it has been great for our institution. I haven't been in it that long, but we've really enjoyed our time in Conference USA and hate that it's over."


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