No Place Like Home for Pirates Against Bulls

GREENVILLE, N.C. — ECU (12-15, 5-9 AAC) captured its fourth consecutive home victory 73-60 against USF (8-20, 2-13 AAC) on Saturday afternoon.

The East Carolina men’s basketball team is the American Athletic Conference’s version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

On the road, the Pirates are searching for their first win since Feb. 1 — of last year, having lost all 10 of their games away from Greenville this season and the last 14 overall.

However, when the Pirates take the floor at Minges Coliseum, something happens. Inexplicably, they all of the sudden become a formidable basketball team as they were Saturday afternoon against the South Florida Bulls.

With an effectively balanced offense and an opportunistic, aggressive defense, ECU cruised past USF 73-60 for its largest scoring output in conference play and fourth consecutive home victory. The last three wins at Minges Coliseum were decided by at least 11 points.

When asked why such a contrast exists in the way the Pirates (12-15, 5-9 AAC) play at home than on the road, fifth-year coach Jeff Lebo had no answers.

“I have no idea,” Lebo said, smiling, with a perplexed look on his face during his post-game press conference. “If I knew that answer, I’d be retired right now. I know that, I’d be a consultant for a lot of people.”

Forward Marshall Guilmette offered an explanation, saying, “Definitely the fans help and having a lot of energy out there helps a lot. You get some home calls go your way, that helps a lot and being with your own rims in the place that you practice.”

The Pirates turned the Bulls (8-20, 2-13 AAC) over 14 times with 10 steals and cashed in on those takeaways for 22 points. Guards B.J. Tyson and Caleb White tied for a team-best 19 points, while forward Guilmette turned in a conference-play-best 13 points.

ECU got off to an ominous start to the game, falling behind 12-3, which prompted Lebo to replace his starters with a younger, more offensively savvy lineup. A few moments later, freshman point guard Lance Tejada scored at the 13:50 mark for the Pirates’ first made-field goal.

That floater from Tejada began an outburst of nine straight points to tie the game, which soon turned into a 17-2 spurt to go in front 20-14, which soon turned into the Pirates closing the half on a 32-13 run to lead 35-25. It tied ECU’s largest first-half scoring output in conference play.

Tyson and Tejada supplied all of ECU’s 22 bench points Saturday.

“The bench brought a lot of energy,” said Guilmette. “Guys like Lance (Tejada) coming off really very well and brought a lot of energy to the game for us.”

This momentum carried over into the final 20 minutes when ECU forward Michel Nzege muscled in a layup in the opening seconds of the second half. Then, back-to-back triples by White and Whisnant, coupled with an old-fashioned 3-point play by Guilmette, pushed the Pirates’ lead up to 46-25 as they opened the second half on an 11-0 run.

USF attempted a late rally behind its leading scorer, junior shooting guard Corey Allen Jr., but to no avail. After scoring just three first-half points, Allen Jr. booked 25 points in the final 20 minutes on his way to game-best 28.

ECU will stay at home for a showdown with the reigning national champions, UConn, who rallied from behind to beat the Pirates 65-52 in Storrs, CT, on Feb. 4. Tipoff time is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday night at Minges Coliseum.

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