Pirates Win Season Opener

East Carolina narrowly defeated Grambling State 61-53 in its season opener at Minges Coliseum.

In the first half East Carolina (1-0) shot 6 for 22 from the field and only had a six point lead going into halftime. A 17-6 run helped the Pirates widen its lead in the second half with the help from the foul line. ECU never gave the lead back and tallied a victory in its season opener.

The Pirates shot 31.1 percent from the field and only made 14 shots on the night. 29 of its 61 points came from the foul line. ECU shot 42 times from the foul line, with senior forward Michael Zangari and junior Caleb White getting to the line eight times.

“I want to see him get to the line more,” said head coach Jeff Lebo on White. “I want him to see him be able to drive the ball and mix. We had to play him. We were struggling to score so much. Our best offensive lineup is our small lineup so we had to play him at the four.”

Last season’s leading scorer, BJ Tyson, benefitted from his free throw attempts, as he missed all nine field goal attempts. Tyson brought in six rebounds and made all six of his free throw attempts, but his first basket of the season eluded him.

“BJ [Tyson] really struggled,” said Lebo“He’s going to have pressure on himself every night, I think, to be able to play well. We’re going to need some points and some consistency out of him. He really had a tough game. But thank god there is a game on Monday and hope he can play better.”

Grambling State (0-1), at times, had no trouble scoring from the field. Michael Bethea Jr. converted six of his 11 three point attempts and finished with 18 points. Bethea was one of three Tigers to score in double figures. Although the Tigers made seven more shots than the Pirates, its inability to get to the foul line proved to be costly. The Tigers only went to the free throw line eight times and made three, while ECU attempted 42 free throws.

Freshman Kentrell Barkley and Deng Riak both entered the game early in the fourth quarter for the Pirates, but only Barkley would record significant playing time. In his first collegiate game, Barkley recorded 27 minutes and was a basket short of a double-double. Barkley also made an impact defensively, forcing three steals. His hard work on the glass, and defensively, gave him 11 rebounds and was recognized by the coaching staff for his hustle on the court. But Barkley was just happy to help his team to a victory in his first collegiate game.

“It’s amazing,” said Barkley “I never felt this way before and just to come out and help my team as much as possible. It made me feel even better.”

In its first game without Marshall Guilmette on the roster, the forwards for ECU were tested in its first game. Zangari was the most productive forward with seven total points and five rebounds, with five of his seven points coming from the free throw line. Michael Nzege started at forward, alongside Zangari, and made all four of his free throw attempts, finishing with six points. Kanu Aja played 16 minutes at forward for the Pirates and brought in six rebounds. But because of scoring issues, Lebo decided to go with a smaller lineup to jump start the offense.

The most glaring issue with the Pirates was its inefficiency shooting the ball. Coach Lebo hopes that its struggles shooting end tonight but was glad to escape with a victory

“I thought that the game was not a very good offensive display of shooting the basketball by either team. We were lucky to win that game shooting 31 percent. But we found a way to gut it out. I thought we did some good things down the stretch.” 

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