ECU's Season Ends In American Quarterfinals

ECU's season ended at the hands of No. 20 SMU 74-68 in Friday's American Conference quarterfinal at XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut.

Simple arithmetic suggests that three is always better than two. However, that wasn’t exactly the case in Friday’s American Conference Tournament quarterfinal between No. 8 seed East Carolina and top-seeded Southern Methodist.

The Pirates, eyeing the upset and their first victory against a ranked opponent in nearly 13 years, made a season-best 15 3-pointers, but it wasn’t enough to knock off Larry Brown’s 20th-ranked Mustangs at XL Center.

SMU muscled 44 points in the paint on its way to a 74-68 victory and advances to face No. 4 seed Temple in the American Conference semifinals on Saturday.

“Our kids played their tail off today and my hat’s off to them,” fifth-year ECU coach Jeff Lebo said. “We did a lot a of great things, we competed awfully hard against a bigger, stronger and very talented, Top 20 basketball team. We had our chances.”

Trailing 59-51, ECU (14-19) went on an 11-2 run, which featured three 3s, to capture the lead 62-61 with just over six minutes remaining in the game. But the Pirates’ red-hot shooting from 3-point range would eventually cool down then turn ice cold down the stretch, as ECU failed to hit another field goal until junior Terry Whisnant’s layup with 33.8 seconds left.

At that point, it was already too late and the Mustangs (25-6) closed the game outscoring the Pirates 10-4.

“I feel kind of fortunate we’re talking about playing tomorrow,” said SMU coach Larry Brown, who coached Lebo for a full NBA season with the Spurs. “Jeff (Lebo) had his team really well prepared. We pride ourselves in guarding and I think, for the most part, we tried to guard as hard as we could, but they executed and made shots”

ECU is now 0-7 this season in games in which it makes at least 10 3s, including a 77-54 regular season loss at SMU on Jan. 17 in Dallas.

In his last game in a Pirate uniform, point guard Antonio Robinson played the best game of his collegiate career. The long, 6-foot-4 Robinson tied for a team-best 18 points with Whisnant to go along with six assists, six rebounds and three steals. Robinson, who entered the game having just hit seven 3-pointers this season, buried four 3-balls on Friday.

The difference in the game, however, was ECU’s 15 turnovers, which SMU turned into 27 points in transition. The American’s Player of the Year, Nic Moore, had a game-high 20 points and five assists for the Mustangs.

“What hurt us in this one was just our turnovers and the points off turnovers. Our turnovers were ‘Pick-6 turnovers’ that led to some baskets,” Lebo said. “I think (Moore) is one of the smartest players in all the country. I know it’s hard to be a point guard for Coach Brown. I did it.”

ECU began Friday’s quarterfinal by netting five triples to take a 15-9 lead. Moments later, the Pirates had their largest lead of the game — 19-9 — on a Robinson lay-up and a Marshall Guilmette two-point jumper.

The early spurt woke up the Mustangs, who, behind Moore, would respond with a 19-3 run and took a 37-32 lead into the halftime locker room.

The final 20 minutes was littered with several extended runs by both teams, which set up the Mustangs finally flexing their muscles and holding off the resilient Pirates.

SMU forwards Markus Kennedy (15 points, six rebounds), Ben Moore (11 points) and Yanick Moreira (10 points, six rebounds) all finished in double figures and helped limit the Pirates to just 16 points in the paint.

In addition to Robinson and Whisnant, ECU sophomore Caleb White hit four 3-pointers on his way to 14 points.

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