One team was going to claim its first conference win of the season Wednesday in Minges Coliseum. On the back of the offensive trio of Terry Whisnant, B.J. Tyson and Caleb White, East Carolina (8-9, 1-3 AAC) edged Houston (7-9, 0-5 AAC) 66-61 to earn its first win in the American Athletic Conference.
White, Whisnant and Tyson, who make up the conference’s best scoring trio, combined for 43 of ECU’s 66 points. The three were a hair above the 38.6 points they averaged entering the contest.
“As I was looking at film, I watched them individually. I saw that they were a little weak individually, one-on-one,” said Tyson regarding the team’s plan of attack. “So, my mentality was to go in and attack on transition, because that’s what I’m best at. Also, like the coaches always tell me, shoot the mid-rangers.”
Tyson, individually, was impressive. He averaged just north of 23 minutes coming into the game and played 33 against Houston. He seemed comfortable in the role, as he also added a pair of assists and led the team with seven rebounds.
“I’m way ready,” said Tyson about stepping into a larger role. “I was hype before the game. I knew I was going to come in and play my game. I felt good shooting around earlier in practice.”
The real difference maker for the Pirates was their defense. Jherrod Stiggers entered Wednesday’s game averaging 16.8 points and was shooting about 38 percent from beyond the arc. He made none of his five three-point attempts and was held to 2-for-15 from the field.
Whisnant was a big factor in defending Stiggers. Most of the time ECU spent playing man defense, Whisnant was tasked with Houston’s star player.
“I took it personal because coach (Jeff Lebo) challenged me earlier in the week,” said Whisnant. “He was telling me about things he likes to do. He attempts 10 threes a game. I took it as a challenge and coach got on me all week. I came in and studied the game plan and studied what he did…I didn’t care about scoring or anything.. I just wanted to do what I needed to do to get the win.”
The Pirates also showed noticeable improvement on the boards. They outrebounded the Cougars by a 39-37 margin and were able to put in 13 second-chance points on 10 offensive rebounds. ECU had been working on getting more physical when battling on the glass and it appears to have paid off.
A 12-2 run in the last seven minutes of the first half gave ECU its first double-digit lead of the game. Antonio Robinson, who shot perfectly from the floor and led the team with four assists, highlighted the run with a triple and a layup within 32 seconds.
After taking a nine-point, 30-21 lead into the locker room at halftime, ECU held a double-digit lead for the majority of the first 10 minutes of the second half. A 13-2 run by the Cougars cut ECU’s lead to one point with just under seven minutes to go.
Marshall Guilmette seemed to cut into Houston’s momentum by sinking the first three pointer of his career. Cavon Baker responded quickly with a trey of his own to bring Houston back within one. ECU would jump ahead by five points after a jumper from White and a breakaway, one-handed dunk from Tyson.
Baker hit another shot from long range and Leron Barnes got a layup to make it a one-point game with 35 seconds left on the clock. ECU kept Houston from capitalizing on the chance to take the lead, though, and converted four free throws in the remaining time to claim the win.
“The last five minutes of the game, it was going to be who had the confidence to make the winning plays,” said Lebo. “Luckily, we came out on top. I think we made some key shots down the stretch.”