Akeem Richmond's buzzer-beater three led ECU to a victory over Weber State in last year's championship game. The Pirates will be defending their title starting with Wright State in Minges Coliseum on March 18.
"I think it's really positive," said head coach Jeff Lebo. "After our tournament was over at UTEP, you have to want to play in the postseason. All of them looked at me in the eye and, right away, and said ‘hey, we want to play. If we get a chance, we're going to play.' We don't want to end on a sour note. It's exciting for our group."
The Pirates (17-16) finished the season slightly above .500. They made it to the second round of the Conference-USA tournament before being eliminated by UTEP, who was hosting. They've been working through plenty of injuries throughout the season and have a rather depleted roster coming into the CIT, but that's nothing unfamiliar. ECU has worked through plenty of adversity this season and still finds a way to win.
"I think it's a credit to our coaching staff and Jeff [Lebo] and his leadership of the program and the heart of our team," said athletic director Jeff Compher. "They've come through and really played well this season and I'm really happy for them that they have this chance at postseason."
ECU will meet Wright State (20-14) in the first round. The Raiders are coming off a tough, 69-63 loss to Milwaukee in the Horizon League championship game, which they hosted. They hosted and won the College Basketball Invitational tournament last season and will look to continue postseason success in the CIT.
"I haven't seen a lot yet," said Lebo regarding first-round opponent Wright State. "I just found out the news, but I know they're used to winning. They've won, I think, 42 games in the last two years. They won 22 last year. They went to the CBI Tournament in the postseason and beat Tulsa at home by 20 last year. They beat Richmond. They won 20 this year. They have five senior starters, so they're an experienced group…They're a tough team and one of the best defensive teams in the country. I think they only give up 62 points a game…we'll have our work cut out."
ECU seniors Akeem Richmond and Petar Torlak get at least one more chance to play in front of their home fans in Minges.
"It will be big for them," said Lebo. "They don't want to end their season right now, so it'll be exciting for them to get a chance to play again in Minges."
For now, the March 18 meeting with Wright State is the only one ECU is scheduled to host. However, that's not to say it will be the only CIT game played in Greenville.
"There is a possibility [of more home games]," said Compher. "We certainly want that to happen. If we're fortunate to come out victorious in this win, I think we'll have a chance to host again. But, we have to continue to do well, play hard and, if it works out that way, we're ready to host."