ECU basketball recap: Owls outlast Pirates, 83-74
Rice's Morris Almond scores 34 in victory
CUSA Fans ECU Correspondent Thomas "Bubba" Rosenbaum brings you a recap of the basketball game between East Carolina and Rice.
ECU (5-16, 0-8), which shot over 50 percent for only the third time this season, took a 42-37 lead into the locker room after connecting on 58 percent of its shots.
The Owls entered the game having lost two in a row and three of four after getting off to a 3-0 start in conference play. Even so, Willis Wilson’s club still found itself in a four-way tie for third place with Tulsa, UCF and Southern Miss. Rice is also one of many teams that are in the race for second place behind league leading Memphis and it could ill afford a home loss to cellar dweller East Carolina if it wanted to stay at the head of that pack.
Rice flew out to a quick start and led 8-0 after Lorenzo Williams converted a free throw to complete an old-fashioned three-point play at the 18:43 mark.
Courtney Captain knocked down three shots from behind the arc over the next 2:12 and the Pirates trimmed the margin to 10-9 with 16:31 remaining in the opening half.
Gabe Blair knotted the score with a free throw before Cory Farmer connected on a triple to put ECU up 13-10 with 15:07 to play before the half.
Over the next ten minutes, the Pirates gradually built their lead while receiving some points from a frontcourt that was non-existent in their last game at Marshall. Freshman center John Fields scored 10 points in less than five minutes and his final hoop in that flurry put his team up 35-26 with 4:47 to go.
The Owls did an excellent job of getting to the free throw line all night and they used five free throws over the next minute to close the gap to 35-31.
Jeremy Ingram extended ECU’s lead back to nine at 40-31 when he drained a three-pointer from the corner with just over two and a half minutes remaining.
Rice closed the half with a 6-2 run. Morris Almond, who mysteriously sat out seven plus minutes despite not being in foul trouble, was reinserted with 15 seconds remaining and knocked down a tough shot with three seconds left on the clock to cap that spurt.
Despite shooting the ball well in the first 20 minutes, the Pirates’ lead was only five as Rice also lit it up by shooting 55 percent.
As the second half began, ECU was able to maintain that lead and led 53-47 following a Gabe Blair tip-in with just over five minutes having elapsed off the clock.
However, point guard Darrell Jenkins was forced to sit due to foul trouble. During that stretch, the Pirates went without a hoop for nearly four minutes.
The Owls capitalized on this opportunity, as Morris Almond and Aleks Perka combined to score all 11 points in an 11-0 run that put Rice up 58-53 with 11:40 to play.
Captain and Farmer did their best to keep ECU close. A Captain trifecta cut the margin to one at 60-59 with 8:25 remaining.
Lorenzo Williams’ jumper at the 4:23 mark capped an 11-3 Rice run that pushed the lead back to 9 at 71-62.
The Pirates would not wave the white flag, though.
With 1:40 left, Taylor Gagnon’s jump shot pulled ECU to within three at 73-70.
That is as close as the Pirates would get. From that point, the Owls put the game away by converting all ten of their free throw attempts, which included four each by Almond and Williams.
East Carolina performed significantly better in most facets of the game, but its inability to control Almond—particularly in the second half when the Owls’ star went off for 21 points—was the difference. Ricky Stokes and his staff threw a variety of defense, including a box and one, at what is quite possibly CUSA’s best player.
It was to no avail, as Almond finished the game with 34 points and 7 boards. Lorenzo Williams also totaled 20 points, 10 of which came from the line, and dished out 6 assists. They were the only two Owls in double figures, but sophomore forward Aleks Perka stepped up in Greg Killings’ absence down low. He was a perfect 4-of-4 from the floor while tallying 8 points and grabbing 4 rebounds.
“Morris Almond is a great player and he really just took the game over. Great players do that. He can score in a variety of ways and is a height that is difficult for us to defend,” ECU head coach Ricky Stokes said.
Another key statistic was the 21 turnovers that the Pirates committed (compared to only 14 for the Owls).
ECU finished the game a scorching 56 percent (27-of-48), including 9-of-17 (53%) from long range. However, Rice also shot well, concluding the contest at 52 percent (24-of-46).
Courtney Captain continued his string of strong performances, scoring 21 points on the strength of a 5-9 performance from long range. Cory Farmer provided him with some much needed assistance, as he knocked down three triples and had 15 points.
However, the difference in the Pirates’ offense production in this one was a result of the contribution from the frontcourt. John Fields, who tends to score his points in spurts, tallied 15 points and pulled down 6 rebounds. Following his 5-of-6 effort versus Rice, the 6-9 freshman is now shooting 65.4 percent from the floor. Taylor Gagnon also came through with 7 points in 18 minutes of action. Gabe Blair gathered a team-high seven rebounds.
East Carolina will be back in action on Wednesday night when it welcomes UCF into Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. (EST).