ECU Survives And Advances Against UCF in OT

In overtime, ECU (14-18) held on to beat UCF (12-18) 81-80 in the first round of the American Conference tournament at XL Center Thursday afternoon.

East Carolina entered its first ever American Conference tournament having just won one conference game away from Minges Coliseum this season: at Central Florida, who was conveniently the Pirates’ opponent at XL Center Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut.

However, the ninth-seeded Knights rallied back from as many as 17 points down to force overtime, before senior Kasey Wilson’s off-balance jumper — with UCF trailing by a point — missed as the extra session expired. The No.8 seed Pirates survived to win 81-80 and advances to the quarterfinals to face top-seed Southern Methodist Friday at noon.

“It was a heck of a game to open the tournament,” fifth-year ECU (14-18) coach Jeff Lebo said. “I give my team a lot of credit in the overtime. When a team comes back like that and ties the game, a lot of times in the overtime they mentally have an advantage and physically have an advantage. We showed some toughness coming down the stretch and made some key plays.”

ECU freshman B.J. Tyson, who was one of the two consensus American Conference All-Rookie Team selections when they were announced on Wednesday, led the team’s five double-figure scorers with 19 points and red-shirt sophomore forward Marshall Guilmette supplied a career-best 18 points.

After an ominous start — beginning the game 1-for-7 shooting from the floor and trailing 7-2 early on — the Pirates knocked down 11 of their next 17 field goal attempts, going on a 24-4 run during that period to take a 26-11 lead, which they would not relinquish until the early stages of overtime.

UCF (12-18) began to cut into the deficit before halftime, closing the first half with a 16-6 spurt to go into the locker room trailing just 38-30.

But for every shot the Knights hit, the Pirates seemed to always have an answer to retain their comfortable cushion. A crucial stretch in UCF’s rally came with ECU leading 58-52 with less than nine minutes remaining.

Knight’s guard Adonys Henriquez buried a 3-pointer, then Antonio Robinson inbounded the ball to a non-suspecting Pirate, which set up another UCF triple, this time from B.J. Taylor, who finished with a team-high 22 points, to draw the game within a bucket, 60-58.

UCF did not tie the game until its final possession of regulation, where — trailing 76-74 with the clock winding down — the Knights were denied an open look from 3-point range, so Taylor forced up a two-point teardrop that missed. But Wilson was there underneath to tuck home the equalizing put-back with 4.7 seconds remaining and cap an 8-1 UCF run.

After an ECU timeout, Tyson took the ball out of the backcourt and drove coast to coast, forcing the Knights’ perimeter defense to collapse, before finding the trailing Paris Robert-Campbell, who missed a wide-open 3 at the top of the circle as the buzzer sounded.

Hulking UCF forward Justin Mcbride opened scoring in overtime to give the Knights their first lead (78-76) since it was 7-6 early in the game. Mcbride finished the game with a double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds).

Guilmette responded with his third trifecta of the afternoon (3-for-5 from 3-point range) to give ECU a lead it would hold on to.

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