The East Carolina men’s basketball team honored its four seniors prior to hosting the Marshall Thundering Herd on Saturday.
With seniors Corvonn Gaines and Shamarr Bowden on the shelf with injuries, the Pirates leaned on its two healthy seniors, Maurice Kemp and Miguel Paul, to capture a school record ninth conference win, 86-79.
Paul had a team-high 22 points, including a stretch where he scored seven unanswered points to put ECU (18-11, 9-7 Conference USA) ahead 66-62 with 5:13 remaining in the game.
Paul and Conference USA’s leading scorer Kemp—who finished with 21 points—would salt the game away by scoring the team's last eight points, shooting a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line.
“I was kind of emotional, because I might never play here again, it being my last home game” said Kemp. “(ECU) accepted me as a family member…This whole entire community has been incredible and it’s been the best time of my life.”
ECU coach Jeff Lebo added, “(These seniors) took a heavy risk when they came to East Carolina when it wasn’t really fashionable…This group has made some history.”
If ECU doesn’t punch its tickets to the ‘big dance’ by winning next week’s conference tournament, they may qualify and host another game in a different postseason tournament.
The Pirates jumped out to an early advantage against the Thundering Herd (13-18, 6-10 C-USA) with Ty Armstrong scoring the team’s first six points. Paul pushed back the lead to 12-3 after draining back-to-back 3’s.
Marshall’s Robert Goff responded by scoring four consecutive baskets to cut the ECU lead to only a point, 12-11. Goff, who averaged only four points per game this season, collected 14 of the Herd’s first 15 points to keep his team within striking distance and finished with a game-high 27 points.
Kemp had eight points in the first twenty minutes—including the Pirates last three baskets of the half—to give ECU a double-figures lead going into the locker room, 35-25.
Marshall came out in the second half with a newfound intensity and put together a 15-4 to take its first lead at 40-39 since scoring the first bucket of the game. Goff and junior forward Elijah Pittman owned 34 of the team’s first 40 tallies.
Pittman, the Herd’s leading scorer, tallied 14 of his 21 points in the second half.
Later on, the game was tied at 46 until ECU junior guard Akeem Richmond drained a triple put the Pirates back in front 49-46. That began an 11-4 run in which Richmond scored seven of his 18 points that saw ECU leading 57-50 with 9:21 left in the game.
The Herd resisted and reeled off a tear of their own—outscoring the Pirates 12-2—to recapture the lead at 62-59, before Paul took it upon himself to lead ECU.
“(My teammates) told me to get more aggressive, so that’s what I did,” said Paul.
The Pirates starting interior players, Robert Sampson and Armstrong, had bounce back efforts after struggling to get involved in their last two games.
Armstrong joined Paul, Kemp and Richmond among those in double-figures scoring with 13 points, while Sampson scored all seven of his points in the second half and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds.
Only six players found the score sheet for Marshall, with Goff, Pittman and junior DeAndre Kane accounting for 68 of the team’s 79 points. Kane had 18 of his 20 points in the second half and dished out a game-high 12 assists.
ECU’s thirteen wins on its home floor at Minges Coliseum is a school record and has
them sitting in the No. 4 slot of the league standings; receiving a first round bye for next weekend’s tournament in Tulsa. They will likely face the hosting Golden Hurricane.
“Everybody starts zero-zero now… It was a goal of ours to get a chance to be called ‘bowl eligible’,” Lebo said jokingly.