The East Carolina University women’s basketball team ended its season Saturday after falling to No. 2 ranked University of Connecticut by 27 points. The team defeated Southern Methodist University on Friday which advanced them to Saturday's game.
The Pirates took on No. 2 UConn (29-2) for their second American Athletic Conference tournament game this season and fell in a 65-92 quarterfinal defeat while in Uncasville, Connecticut on Saturday. This game resulted in better scoring and defense for the Pirates compared to their Feb. 6 matchup against the Huskies, which resulted in a crushing 55-118 blowout loss.
The Huskies advanced to their sixth straight AAC semifinal game. They were led by American Player of the Year senior forward Napheesa Collier. ECU scored 39 of its 65 points in the first half of the game and Third Team All-Conference selection sophomore guard Lashonda Monk was a driving force for the Pirates, scoring nine points with two assists during the first 10 minutes.
UConn took a 22-13 lead after Collier scored seven in a row, but ECU came back and finished off the first quarter on a 9-2 run, coming back just short of tying the game, 22-24. This small gap did not last long as the Huskies came out into the second quarter going on an 11-0 run, with the last nine points coming from Collier.
Monk and senior forward Saltia Greene cut the lead to seven after a six point spurt (three-point play and a three) although UConn continued to lead by 7-10 points throughout the second quarter. The first half ended 39-46, with the Pirates down by seven and considering UConn is the No. 2 nationally ranked team in the country, ECU held its ground throughout more so than its matchup earlier this season.
Going into the second half, the Pirates could not uphold its hot shooting, going 9-for-32 where they went 14-of-33 in the first half. UConn started the third quarter going on a 14-4 run and the Pirates were falling further and further behind as the game continued. ECU scored 11 points in the third compared to UConn’s 21, ending with the Pirates being down 50-67.
The fourth quarter solidified the loss for ECU as UConn shot 13-for-16 and outscored ECU by 10 points, similar to the third quarter. Senior point guard Alex Frazier was a big source of points for the Pirates with six points in the final period smf finishing with a total of 13 points throughout the game, while Monk led the way with 20 points. The game ended in a 27 point loss for ECU, 65-92.
The day before that, ECU took on SMU (11-19) winning by two points in a close battle, 50-48. The Pirates opened the game on a 9-2 run as both teams played defense well and the quarter remained similar in scoring one on both sides, ending 14-10.
"Survive and advance, that is what it's about right now," acting head coach Nicole Mealing said per ecupirates.com. "I think that we played with the energy that we needed to in order to win this game.”
The second quarter was one of ECU’s lowest scoring games all year. It scored eight points in the period while the Mustangs scored seven total points, but the Pirates still led 22-17. The Pirates had four steals in the quarter and scored six of its eight points off SMU turnovers.
During the third quarter each team dominated the floor. The Pirates dominated for the first 5:17, as they went on a 10-1 run and their defense prevalled and held off SMU. The Mustangs answered with a 10-0 run and ended the third with ECU leading only 34-28.
As seen in past games, the Pirates typically fell in the fourth quarter after they lead the entire game. In the fourth quarter, this pattern repeated itself as SMU scored 18 points to ECU’s 12. The Mustangs had their best offense during the fourth as they went 5-for-5 from the free throw line. ECU continued to lead throughout and a jumper from junior guard Raven Johnson helped the Pirates, but the point gap continued to diminish as SMU answered with a 12-4 run.
With 27 seconds left in the game, SMU tied the game at 46-46 with seconds remaining. During ECU’s final play, Greene attempted a shot but missed and as a result of that, the game went into overtime. After ECU lost its lead to SMU for the first time all game, the Pirates continued to struggle, missing their first five shots in overtime but held off the Mustangs from building on to their lead.
Monk tied the game with a steal and layup followed by the game winning basket made by Greene with 1:49 left in the game. The floating jumper went in over a defender and ECU continued the momentum as ECU forced SMU into two missed shots and two turnovers, holding on to the win, 50-48.
“Shots were not falling like we wanted them to but our defense was there and we played tough defense for 45 minutes because of the overtime. I am just so proud of them and of their effort with what they did today," Mealing said.
After winning against SMU, the Pirates had some drive going into their game against UConn but could not pull out another win. The Huskies are one of the most competitive women’s basketball programs in the nation and the Pirates performed well considering the odds were against them.
After posting a fairly even record of 16-15 for the second season in a row, ECU finished eighth out of 12 teams in the American Athletic Conference for the 2018-2019 season. The Pirates finished in seventh after the 2017-2018 season and last place after the 2016-2017 season. While ECU has clearly shown improvement in its program over the past three years, the Pirates remain in the middle of the pack after the end of this season.